After 11 years it appears that Asylum Visual Effects in Santa Monica is closing. Nathan McGuinness built a shop that had a strong reputation providing high end visual effects for films like Master & Commander, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Terminator Salvation (IMDB) as well as commercials like the recently released Call of Duty Black Ops spot.

Phones across Los Angeles were buzzing today with reports of a company meeting where everyone was let go, and in this socially connected world Twitter and Facebook exploded with the gossip including mentions of filing Chapter 11 and closing their doors immediately. Director Fred Ramondi reacted to the news: “Good People. Great Work. Very sad. I did my last 4 spots there as a director. They treated me great. The work was stellar. A lot of talent there.” adding “Nathan: You had a dream and had the balls to make it happen. You’re the man.” We have reached out to Asylum for comment and will update if we get further details.

UPDATE: 11/18/10 David S. Cohen at Variety reports that McGuinness pins closure on their inability to compete with incentives from Canadian and English companies. More troubling was the statement that while no job was affected, artists are being left unpaid for their final week. Full article at Variety.

111 thoughts on “Asylum Visual Effects closing”

  1. On a personal note – we wanted to express our sadness at the loss of Asylum – they did great work and produced some of the finest composting work we have ever seen. Good luck to all the artists moving forward and our best wishes.

    1. I had the pleasure of working with Asylum for over a year and a half the first time around. They were an absolutely wonderful facility. The best pipeline, by far, out of all the smaller studios I’ve worked at. The people and culture there was a rarity in the fact that it promoted a very fun and laid back atmosphere and was very professional at the same time, the work IS exceptional (most of it anyways) and they always tried to do the right thing in regard to caring for their very talented artists. I will truly miss Asylum and all the people I’ve met there. Thank you Nathan and Emma McGuinness for creating great work and such a wonderful experience.

      1. I don’t know what SadDaynVFX is talking about, best pipeline?!?! It was almost maya out of the box! How many years go was that? Worse render farm manager I’ve ever seen, worse shot tracker I’ve ever seen, terrible communication from CG to comp. Rick was finally getting his pipeline together but it was tool late. I can’t imagine where else you worked if you thought that was good.

        Having worked for 2 of the current companies that died, I’ve had the same reaction upon starting. WTF is going on here?!?! These guys don’t have a pipeline, or good shot/asset tracking… the point being, these companies were grossly inefficient. People talk about margins, over seas work, taxes, but they keep looking outside not at themselves.
        So few companies are thinking, “Whats the fastest way to client approvals? How can we manage this many shots effectively?” Like they forget what the point of CG is, they add complexity, politics, extra levels of approval, all this that makes shots take longer, and not look better.

        I can’t imagine how many of these companies were making money that way. I think industry used to cover up inefficiency with higher costs, now that’s going away companies have to re-evaluate quickly and make changes.

    2. The truth of the matter is that Ayslum closed down because of poor management from the top down. The owners and upper management were totally closed minded to real managerial, technological and financial solutions. Instead the owners paid high salary to a few at the top, who they put all their trust into, who ultimately were just greasing their pockets and playing the ego game. Instead looking up and seeing the cliff of impending disaster, they just kept their heads down and went straight over it. The technology group was like the gestapo under the leads of Tommy and Phil.

  2. This is pathetic. Shops should have the balls to charge an appropriate amount of money to keep in business. A profit margin shouldn’t be a paycheck to paycheck scenario. Either they consistently low balled bids to their own detriment, or they were severely mismanaged.

    Running list off the top of my head of shops that closed after recently doing “big budget work” on named projects.

    00. Radium
    01. Giant Killer Robots
    02. The Orphanage
    03. Asylum
    04. CORE Digital
    05…… add to the list as you like… everyone is eating their own belts …..

    Grow some balls studios. Charge clients appropriately. Pay people and get paid. VFX and Motion Graphics is not a charity and is not for profit, and we aren’t “grateful” just because we enjoy what we do.

    1. Here, here! If shops would sack up and not cower to clients for pennys to the dollar maybe they could stay open. Shops should be willing to ruffle some feathers and consider that each time they low-ball the last guy they are dropping their value and the value of others each time. Studios are preying on that shop against shop mentality to get as low a cost as they can. When are shops gonna wake up and realize they are killing themselves and their artists. Its a poor business model, and the big shops are not immune, they are just better at outsourcing than the little guys. I am saddened and angry to see such great shops dying at the hands of Studio fat cat tactics. I wish all the artists all the best.

    2. Apparently you have all the answers to our industry challenges…It just comes down to Balls…I wish it were that simple. Unfortunately you will need to talk every shop in the industry into “Growing Balls” while simultaneously leveling international exchange rates, removing cheap international labor and tax incentives.
      If bids are not in line with other VFX studios that are cheaper they wont get the award no awards mean no work and company closure. VFX houses end up basically cutting their margins so narrow that they are always on the edge of collapse.
      Movie Studios will get bitten later when they require high end visual effects and the only studios around that can do the work are the huge places that can now charge double for their work due to supply and demand.
      I dont have an answer of how to solve our industry’s problems but something has definitely got to change.

      1. I agree with VFXJ that it really is about securing the work to stay afloat.This is sadly also what pushes companies into a kind of downward spiral of functioning (underbidding or not) just to stay afloat.

        4 out of 5 of these Companies are from California. 3 out of the 4 CA companies are from SF. I’m not saying the rest of the industry is by any means healthy. It just seems like (even though Core is from Canada) the work is moving out of California to Places like London and Vancouver namely for tax incentives. Which is also what AUS and NZ offer. Maybe Cali should take note if they want to keep their VFX at home. I’m from Cali and now work in London and this is just what I’ve seen personally.

        I don’t mind starting with zero

    3. Correction: Radium has never come close to shutting down. Both the Santa Monica and Dallas studios are thriving.

    4. LOL, says the Artist to the Producer.

      Here are some FACTs about our industry.

      If a bid is not competitive, you don’t get the work, you will be on your ass sooner.
      The high margin work is all going overseas.
      The ground breaking work goes to the same 4 companies. I
      Studios have a mandate to place work in tax incentive based locations (india, china, detroit, canada, britain)

      They will not be the last to fall.

    5. You have obviously never owned or run a place, its tough when your balls are on the line. Nathan and his company were the best.

    6. Actually Dumbo, Radium didn’t close because of “Big Budget Work”. Short story rumor is that they merged with ReelFX and then were somewhat pushed out. The SF office closed because Reel FX made that decision, nothing else. The name was changed but the LA and Dallas offices are still active.

      On another note, it’s ignorant to think that shops lower there bids with no other agenda! No work = closure. Agencies and studios force our hands to remain active and competitive by basically having to work at cost. Logically, why else would anyone risk going under or having no margin?!? If there were an option, I’m sure the 4 shops listed would have taken it.

      Mis-management is another thing altogether.

    7. This is not just about shops charging enough to survive — it is about the multitude of shops all competing for what has been a smaller piece of pie for the last few years. Add that to Canada granting over 50% labor credits for VFX work and, well, that spells trouble.

    8. Are you serious? Did it ever occur to you that our government needs to give incentive to keep the work in this country? What are you talking about “grow some balls”? That’s so inappropriate to what’s really going on.

  3. “Balls” only works in this scenario if everyone grows them at once. Otherwise competition drives you out of the game earlier than paycheck-to-paycheck attrition. That’s just how things are.

    1. It’s our own fault. What a completely stupid thing to say. I have no idea what you mean by “our own” faults but if you mean the artists then you really have no clue do you?

  4. You guys are seeing this so short sided. Its not the fault of the company to bid low. Its the global economy and the overseas value of currency and tax incentives that drives US based studios to charge the lower rates we are forced too.
    Companies like Asylum had not created their own content, and did not diversify into offshore studios to keep competitive like many of the houses have.
    Hydraulx is still around because the bros are creating content, it has nothing to do with work quality, or the personality there..

    Its the sad reality and the US and state governments will not give the incentives needed to keep the rates competitive because in the end the cheaper overseas rate only fills the pocket of the production company further which in the end is a US based interest and investment.

    See the big picture

  5. Asylum was a great place to work and I always enjoyed my time there. I don’t know what might have changed in the months since my last contract, but I have nothing but fond memories of the place and all the wonderful and talented people. Asylum will be missed.

  6. I never had the pleasure of working for that great great studio, but some of the most talented people I’ve known have touched on the keyboards there at one time or another.

    I believe that the amount of truly talented artists is not increasing in our evolution as quickly as the demand for stunning digital imagery. It’s becoming the communication and entertainment medium of choice, and it’s happening world wide.

    I’m a 16 yr veteran and I’ve been on the staff of 5 great shops that have closed doors over the years. My observation of what they had in common, what I witnessed first hand, raises this one question:

    Why is the bidding process that construction companies employ successfully because they are provided with a fixed blue print still being used by fx shops? In comparison we are putting a price on something drawn on a bar room napkin.

    When you provide a key service, and in many cases, THE key service to a project that takes in hundreds of millions of dollars, and more often, billions of dollars, you should be able to make a profit.

    It’s my belief that we need to take a hard look at the bidding process and learn from the production side or even what construction companies do when there is no fixed blueprint…they get paid on a cost plus basis. We need to stop doing things a certain way because “that’s just how it’s done” I”m so tired of hearing the insurance/completion bond excuse’s all bullshit.

    1. great post Dave. on the TVC side, i couldn’t agree more. i wonder if a lot of our troubles would go away if our clients were held accountable for their own poor planning and complete lack of organization. We literally wind up line producing a lot of the work ourselves, doing our client’s job for them. this should be a bonanza for us via cost plus or overages, but instead it’s the exact opposite.

      i think how we wind up here is a complex story, but it is interesting to think about coming together and forcing a “fixed blueprint” approach, but i have reservations about it being a truly viable idea. a blueprint for a home renovation project leaves little room for subjective interpretation. Rendering a CG water splash is much different: how can you possibly account for the trajectory of each drop in a simulation that took days to compute? Can you imagine how many caveats your bidding process will entail ( the CG water will include, but not be limited to, 4 perfectly oval shaped drops of bluish, semi-clear liquid, falling in a perfect spiral over the head of the main actor, blah blah blah blah….) sooner or later you are arguing with your client over every little detail of a job. (that’s not a spiral! it’s more like an octagon!)

      i do agree with your thoughts on insurance / completion bond and the whole procurement craze sweeping the industry. it’s totally nuts, but i guess it will continue until there is a way of assigning true value to all of the tremendously valuable things that we do, and all agree to stick to it. either that, or there needs to be a much bigger, seismic-type evolution… like owning our content, or somehow owning a piece of the success that is tied to the job we did fantastic work on.

      regardless, nice to see you on FXguide again, wish the circumstances were a bit different….

      1. I just finished a show that we worked on from the beginning with the client. The client already had the vision, but collaboratively we came up with a plan to develop the sequence. the builds were started well in advance and the previz was completed and bought off on before we shot. so the shooting crew had sufficient time to come up with a plan. and the shoot itself went remarkably well and quickly. I agree with ss. slowing down and coming up with a concrete plan definitely helps everyone out. I’m not suggesting that this “plan” will wipe away all the problems on the post side but it will help. We have to move away from jamming a movie out the door to save money. compressing schedules just leads to chaos.

    2. It’s funny how you make it sound like everything is bright and shinny with construction. It’s not. Architects have to cut down their prices, too.

  7. Seriously Dumbo? You think studios in Santa Monica are only competing with studios on that same street?

    When an LA studio is charging say $100 an hour (to use a round number) and some place in Singapore is charging $30/hr … guess what “Growing some Balls” and demanding $100 an hour gets you?

    Ill give you a hint… it doesn’t include a dollar sign.

  8. All the vfx houses need to collude and stick it in the studio system… let them outsource their marketing departments, We don’t need unions, we need business owners that see past the competitive foreground and see that the real issue, is a global market that eats it’s own lunch. STOP IT! All the owners need to meet in a secret place on a secret date and put a plan in place to provide for world domin… oh, the Federal Reserve already did this…

    On a side note, the brothers strauss are on to something… create your own content = job security/cashflow… love them and their movies, or hate them… Good for them…

  9. Guys – maybe tomorrow is a better time to rant about stuff overseas and bidding wars. Today, it might be better to reflect on 11 years of absolutely fantastic work and appreciate just how much the guys at Asylum pushed the limits of our industry. Nathan and Emma deserve a break, and the whole staff deserves a drink or five. Just my opinion…

    1. Very true. I’m very sad to see our brothers and sisters at Asylum go. They were (are!!) a great house and have done amazing work for quite some time. Good luck to all of you affected by this. I’ve suffered through two closures like this in my career, and have had the fortune of having sincere owners who have made sure all of their people were paid for all of their time before shuttering their doors.

  10. The gulf will widen between big shops and the midsized firms like Asylum. They will ultimately go bust as they will never be able to raise the investment required to expand and gain a seat at the top table. Instead they will just get the crumbs on offer from the likes of Sony who win the whole job then outsource bits for no money.

  11. My heart goes out to everyone at Asylum. It’s sad when good companies fall.

    I know im going to get pshawed for this but facility owners need to address the subsidies overseas.

    Vfx is not cheap in Canada, UK, and New Zealand. The subsidies offered by their governments are a significant advantage.

    I suggest facilities get together and contact a US Trade Lawyer like Alan Dunn:

    A case needs to be made to US Ambassador Ron Kirk to file a petition with the WTO.

    VFX facilities are being injured by subsidies that are a violation of the WTO. This is analogous to illegal tariffs placed on imports.

    The aircraft and paper mill industry have been able to submit petitions to the WTO. So should vfx facilities. You never know if you don’t try.

      1. That really is something to think of. Production leaving the states hurts everyone. FXStudios mostly, but we need to be compelling beyond the current strength in talent.

    1. How can the US petition the WTO about “illegal” overseas subsidies when the US offers them as well? You may think that California is a sovereign nation, but the rest of the world just sees it as a region of the US, just like NM, LA, NY where the subsidies kill those in Europe,New Zealand, Canada etc. Talk about pot calling kettle black.

      UK VFX Studios don’t get the tax reliefs – they go to the film producers. Maybe the work wouldn’t be there in the first place without the tax relief, but the prices charged in the UK have to be in line with the rest of the world – UK vfx companies work with the same margins. LA just isn’t competitive or efficient any more and hasn’t been for years.

      1. The overseas subsidies are used by uk, Canada, and other countries to lure us studios to do work there. That is illegal. If the uk offered subsidies to uk films by a uk producer then that’s okay.

        So subsidies for us studios by new Mexico and michigan would be okay.

        The WTO only has jurisdiction on international trade.

        1. OK, setting aside illegality for the moment, US film tax reliefs were worth $1.5 billion dollars across the nation last year. The UK tax reliefs average around $170million a year – you’ve got personal and corporate tax levels that are lower than anything in Europe. How much more help do you people actually need to get competitive?

          1. JasonX,

            It sounds like you’re adding up total production incentives…which is a much bigger pool than post-production incentives. What is the breakdown of US post-production incentives compared to UK post-prod incentives? That would be an apples-to-apples comparison.

            Intra-US incentives are a different deal: all US states are on the same playing field. They are equals in competition. When sovereign nations offer incentives, they have a distinct advantage over US states. The US Federal gov won’t intervene to even up these fights because it is nominally for “free trade” unless you are in a business where you can obtain photos of a senator cavorting with tranny hookers (no offense intended to tranny hookers).

    2. Unfortunately, the WTO has NO teeth for enforcement. I heard a story on NPR about cotton production the other day, and the WTO levied sanctions, and guess what. . . business continued as usual. Nothing changed.

      1. That’s a good point. Again, I’m just suggesting alternatives to stop the race to the bottom.

        In the Brazil/US cotton dispute, Brazil, which challenged US cotton subsidies won every appeal by the US. By winning sanctions against the US, Brazil was now allowed to put a tax on any imports.

        Realizing that this could hurt all US exports to Brazil, they decided to make a deal where they paid Brazil money to let them continue the subsidies.

        In the case for film, the US would probably see this as an unnecessary flare up and probably be inclined to offer subsidies to vfx facilities instead. It’s an incredibly small industry compared to the $4 billion a year the fed gives to the cotton industry each year

        1. VFX Soldier – i really think you’re on to something here. i don’t know anything about business, and im just an artist, but seems to me our industry is drowning and current business models need to change NOW, or even the Big Guys will be hemmorhaging jobs. already – look how many of us know people who have lost jobs, left, or are leaving the industry b/c there’s no true stable future in it? this is not the heyday of rockstar VFX of 15 years ago when everything was still growing.. things have changed in a very ugly way & we need to change to survive. i’ve been in it for a few years now, and see a drastic shift just since the time i started until now (6 years).
          the IATSE-vfx union is a tiny step in the right direction, even if not the answer to all the industry’s problems of course.
          we need to be more aware, communicate, and support eachother, get the best heads together, and attack this on an economic/government/business front as you suggest… bond as a community rather than adhering to the “Lone Wolf” approach if we are too survive and thrive in this industry (and still want to have vfx jobs 5 years from now that are in the USA!)
          just my 2 cents.

          1. Its not just work going overseas. It companies in Phoenix and Kansas City doing amazing work too. Work that used to require a major dollar investment in high end computer systems can now be done at home in After Effects. There is little or no incentive for advertising to go to LA to do this type of work anymore and that has had a major impact on these shops as well. There are guys posting incredible work on Vimeo that is being shot on DSLRs and composited in AE that rivals the best work done at shops like Asylum.

      1. Correct… I hate to divert this into politics but Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer were well on their way of creating legislation to help the industry out with a WTO petition were shut out by the Bush Administration. To be fair, the MPAA was against a WTO petition because they benefit from the overseas subsidies.

  12. As someone in an ancillary business ( tv comm’ls) who’s worked on both the agency & prod. side, this issue of low- balling for work in the ultra- competitive environment of the past 15 or so years has been front & center for all. Throwing “guy language” at the problem only aggravates it.
    It’s not about ” balls” but about having management in the hands of people who understand what it takes to make a company profitable and even more importantly, with the knowledge to negotiate. The latter is one of the great lost arts of many businesses, along with the ability to understand the true parameters of schedule and talent. Making promises to clients you know you can never keep (and still make a profit, or at least cover your overhead) is the road to disaster. Eventually, it all comes down to being willing and brave enough to say ” the emperor has no clothes.” You don’t need ” balls” to do that– Just common sense, good people- skills and the intelligence to understand the personal and business weaknesses/ strengths of your employees and your
    clients. Operating from fear never works in any situation.

  13. It’s the standard of living in places like the US in particular that require artists working in studios to make a certain amount in comparison to overseas or foreign markets. Foreign markets can have lower cost of living, which equates to much lower salaries. That equates to lower bids for the same work. To be competitive here, you need to low-ball bids to land work, but that will eventually catch up to you. The service industries will have to move to lower cost areas, and wait for the talent will grow in those areas in the next few generations. Studios are doing what they can (ferociously at that) to minimize their costs, but it’s sometimes to their own detriment in the final product. But in the end, mass consumers wind up accepting it, paying off the cycle. The demand will have to grow to accommodate the supply to keep everyone busy, otherwise the industry will move to where talent doesn’t require that much pay. Ultimately, when a modeler can be paid $60 a day versus $320 for _about_ the same output, it’s a no-brainer for the studios. Nothing to do with balls. Capitalism plain and simple. Why do you think *everything* is made in China now?

    1. The cost of living is actually higher in the UK and Vancouver. Again, incentives at work here, not cheap labor.

      1. Incentives help to bring the work in, but UK studios dont get that money. A shot in London brings in the same cash it would get in LA. The London VFX studios have worked out how make money on that. LA needs to get hungry again and become more efficient, just like London had to when Sterling was at two dollars.

        1. Sure, but London houses pay far worse than LA
          it’s not an easy thing to hear but (senior) artists in LA have become accustomed to high pay relative to their cost of living.
          The ‘industry’ is changing and ‘maturing’ and much much bigger – there are way way more people capable of doing the work than there used to be, so especially at the entry and mid-level positions, their market value goes down. Sadly it’s simple economics.

          Look back a decade or so at early ‘Desktop Publishing’ or website designers, who for a while could effectively name their price because there weren’t enough of them. Nowadays that it not a well paid gig to anything like the same degree.

          1. I’d disagree with London paying “far worse than LA” – UK studios would never be able to recruit from the US if that was the case. About 40% of UK VFX staff are overseas hires, around %10 are from LA/SF. They can’t all be on cultural tours of olde Europe… I would say that London does more with less.

          2. have you worked in London?
            people from LA/SF are for the most part coming here because there’s a lack of work back home.
            Many of the others from Europe/Aus/SA etc because it’s where they have to come if they want to work on big prestigious shows. When they return home, as they do, that London experience makes them a lot more valuable back home.
            At the moment the big shops in London can’t find enough people, they’re all hiring aggressively

            – it will doubtless all change here however, the work Visa situation is set to change and the “Potter” gravy train is coming into the last station

            but yes London does more with less – via:
            no overtime, payment at a daily rate (but the day could be 8 hrs, or 16 hrs at crunch time) and a much higher cost of living

            however, somewhat mitigated by free healthcare and 4 weeks paid vacation pro rata

            one rarely mentioned observation I’d make, I think London/Europe organises it’s projects around artists having a slightly more broader skill-set, a little less narrow specialisation – which quite possibly helps as adjusting the crewing of a show is more flexible

            we don’t really have career roto or matchmove artists here – it’s something all go through and move on from pretty rapidly. Or I’ve come across, for example, American ‘senior shader writers’ but who know Renderman, but barely know the very basics of maya. – sadly the narrow specialisation route is where we seem to be heading as show size and no. of seats expands

      2. Well, just adding to the sting here! “Nothing personal” so please don’t go all crazy on me!

        I think you guys forgot tax breaks New Orleans 25% ,Albuquerque 25% .I guess the business is G(LO-CAL). NOW more like Global and local. Yes, the only studios that will survive this storm and stay float are vfx houses like DD (stocks),ILM (rich dude),Sony(SPE Big daddy),MPC (technicolor Thomson group inc) In short giant money flow behind them?

        Companies in Australia, Canada–Vancouver are also struggling all over places to name a few that come to my mind are Image Engine (Easy money flow by private investors), CIS “Delux” Vancouver (Corporate money hard n slow cash flow) most of them are fight over work and under bidding, stealing each others vfx producers locally, London & elsewhere. The Embassy is surviving of commercial work and work fed by Neil Bloomkamp (D-9 director). So in short, studios in Canada too are taking the hit and struggling to survive, Zoic has been out sourcing 80% of their TV work to Vancouver to take advantages of the 44% tax breaks from 5 years!!. Smaller Vancouver studios like, Artifex (shut down),

        [MODERATORS NOTE: Artifex owner has contacted us to say this is not true]

        Atmosphere, gold tooth, lux, Spinpro all under bidding each other to stay float and on the verge of shutting down. Even just animation studios like Rainmaker (Max Steel, Barbie fame), Bardel Entertainment many more to mention are struggling for animation content. Australia and New Zealand are under bidding each other to name a recent incident of “The -Hobbit” Weta and Australian film commissionare just playing the dog and the bone game worth $650 million.
        So its just not studios here in Cali.

        Pixar, Sony Imageworks, DD, Zoic, MPC are in Vancouver so lets face it NO other country is giving 44% tax breaks like Canada- British Columbia.

        California is “Broke”,New Orleans is “Broke”,Florida is trying hard to keep up DD opens in Florida to save the sinking ship.All the work is going to London, BUT there again the London tax breaks are soon to go! The film commission of London is pulling the plug on tax incentives. London is next to fall hell, London doesn’t even pay OT!!
        Albuquerque film studios is pulling the plug on tax incentives in 2011 the ABQ FILM LOT IS EMPTY since Terminator 3!! so you can imagine New Orleans is picking films to shoot and just shedding out the bail out money from Katrina 🙂
        Sony Imageworks is still holding strong but I wouldn’t be surprised if Sony pulled the plug on VFX and just keep the Animation department floating. This is obviously because SPA is making far more money and NO losses than SPI. ILM opens a small pod in LA to cut costs on artist relocation, benefits, and obviously cause there is no space for desks at the presidio (san francisco).

        Now looking at the other side of the world like India and China, Korea.. Lets face the truth here at the end of the day its all about “Demand and Supply” cause no matter the quality studios WILL go back there.. India is reverse buying out studios in North America, UK like “Dreamworks” and Post Logic Studios, Frantic Films etc. There gain the local “Bollywood” industry is feeding all the money needed No matter what “Steve Wright” prophesied what he called The Indian Exodus… You need to be there to see whats really happening I did and was baffled the way things work. “Money flow” is the key factor here which is not in our favor in Hollywood. I am not sure if ANY of you guys know about the Japanese, European animation market which tied up with 4 Animation companies in India for $1.2 billion in teh past three years. I even traced down the “Emmy’s” for Cartoon Net work and I found them sitting on a desk in India!!! The companies staying float India and China with low costs in productions are Sony Pictures Imageworks, Technicolor, Disney, EA, Rhythm and Hues who recently opened up a 2nd big building aka slave factory.

        We need to get our sh*t together and make sure the work is balanced out! How? I dont know 🙂 Looking at the what the state of Cali is doing for “Hollywood” NOTHING!!! No state tax breaks = outsource of work and the downfall of many more more studios across the world?

        1. MY Apologies to ADAM STERN-Owner /Artifex! although the information was partially true but NOT anymore!

          1. This information is/was never true. Stop posting inaccurate info about not only Artifex, but other local shops. You’re only doing everyone including yourself a disservice.

  14. it’s pretty sad. a lot of companies have closed down lately. illusion arts, cafe fx, and now asylum. the big picture that we need to look at is there are students graduating every year and experienced artists who are laid off from companies that closed down or laid off from work. this is one scary time we are experiencing. companies are not growing. they are shrinking and without enough companies to provide work for students and experienced artists things are going to uglier.

  15. Best Wishes to everyone at Asylum, may you all find work soon. Now is not the time to be arm chair CEO’s. Our fellow artist need our support, not our second guessing. There will be time to discuss what needs to be done in the industry, but there are a few more hurting people out there tonight unemployed.

  16. I’ve work in most places in LA, for a very long time. I am appalled at the amount of in-competence i see at each and every place. It is amazing to me how people are employed and get paid big money for the monkey work I see them do. Maybe if companies hired based on talent and output, instead of being a “good guy” they might stay in business. I have seen people take all day to do stuff that should be an hour. I have seen lead artists not know how to use half the tools that have been in software for 10+ years. I know this doesnt relate to Asylum, but just my general ranting seeing so many places close or cut wages.

  17. Wow, there is a lot of interesting perspective here…
    i came from a software company as a creative director, i can tell you that it was very well managed. profit was the top concern, not because of greed but the ability to survive and continue operations. Unfortunately this cut allot of innovation and creativity off at the knees… its a really hard thing to do, keep on top of technology and be on top of the creative hill, oh, and mind the costs… not easy.
    Somehow, i think it can be done. keep costs low and take jobs that are profitable, not necessarily “cool”…

    on to the artists… you guys rock, and you know it… just look at the work… now, update your reels, and find a job, if you can’t do it, we are all screwed…

    1. I wish I could update my reel. The producers at Asylum never respond to requests for taking work for my reel and I now have no evidence of three years work at Asylum. Thanks guys.

      1. Screwed,

        i know this seems like an easy answer, but ALL artists can take credit for their work, other than a VFX walk through, simple pull your shots off the blu-ray or dvd when released. Don’t let unresponsive producers hold you back. just make sure you detail what you worked on in those scenes… even better, if you have timecoded footage, original plates etc.. do a before and after…, this is your reel, not a leak.
        Good luck.

        Remember, just because the owners closed the place.. it doesn’t mean they are bad people.. they simply failed. that happens every day…

  18. Pingback: Asylum Visual Effects has closed | Render Me Speechless

  19. This is simple but cold market forces at work. Sad in the short term for those affected.

    An endless cycle but one which makes the next generation better organised, more profitable and more able to survive.

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  21. Discussion about international business and the workings of the vfx industry are totally relevant and interesting but I can’t stop wondering why we’re still paying movie stars 20 million on a picture.
    Sure, you can’t make your movie without actors and, I know, we just love our celebrities, but you can’t even get out of the gates on something like Sorcerer’s Apprentice without stellar vfx talent.
    So if we’re going to set out to change the way things work, maybe knocking super millionaires like Nicholas Cage down a peg could be a start. I’ll bet my Wacom tablet that more people were psyched about the fx in that movie than ol’ Nick’s performance.

  22. i think a lot of valid points have been raised here. the reality is tough .
    i have been a VFX sup for 14 years and i bid against Asylum many many times, they were a shop that crafted very good work throughout the years , and having them close their doors is a sad thing.
    what are the real reasons behind it , i don’t know .
    but what i do know is that once upon a time , there was a process that was respected by all , because the money was not an issue.
    A time where the bid were made on shooting boards and specific shots , a time were there was many discussion with the directors and above all a plan that everybody try to stick to.

    then the money went down, first were the music videos, than the movies, than the commercials. and the first casuality was the process itself.
    now VFX are bid before even seeing a treatment from a director, blind numbers coming out of nowhere leaving us to guess : ‘are we gonna eat our shirt on this or not ? and is it worth for us to do so .
    And that is when the fear factor kicks in, dividing the world in 2 categories the one who can say thanks ,but NO thanks … and the one who can’t or chooses no to.

    but in this turmoil of money , outsourcing etc… one thing did not change at all : the behavior and the demands . we went from ” i have a lot of money can you put some glow on my film?, to … i have no money you have to make this dog talk …. oh and we did not shoot a dog, so make it work!”.

    i have been on the production side and a director for a few years now and i really believe that what killed the process is a complete disregard of the process itself. as a director you know more often than none what you have to work with . you know you have the money for an episode of “land of the lost”
    and you choose to write “Avatar” because all you care about is doing a better looking job than the other guy , with a complete disregard of what it takes to do “Avatar”. and than the low balling bid war ignites between the post houses. some choose to be an active part of it , some don’t.

    i have a lot of respect for the one who don’t . for the one who do i want to say that ultimately you will go down too , it’s just a matter of time.

    and to all the directors out there … if you know you cannot afford what you are demanding (sometimes very disrespectfully) , than you are a part of the problem .

    i remember having the feeling that as a VFX sup, i was walking on set with a big basket of “fix it in post” where everybody could drop their ball in. incompetence , laziness or just plain mediocrity and carelessness. but at the end of the day we got stuck with everyone mistakes or behavior consequences. but who is paying for this ? … most of the time the only currency available at this point is just a lot of ball dodging skills.

    VFX is capable today of so many wonders and is the only key of materializing what your imagination can come up with, in a way it is somewhat magical.
    when Arthur was king was he treating Merlin like a piece of shit ? … i don’t think so .
    when things are disrespected , mistreated and live in an arch environment they make choices to survive, sometimes it works and they find a way to thrive again, sometime it doesn’t and they go extinct.

    somebody told me one day ” you never finish a shot, you just abandon it !” , today Asylum had to abandon the craft all together and it is very unfortunate.

    1. Well said – as a VFX sup/compositor on mostly smaller shows and outside the US I can still relate to every single thing you said. Process is broken – very few director understand their constrains and all those years I was really hoping that the idea of “fix it in post” would actually go out the window. But with the (mostly not very good) rotoscoping in india being all the rage people on set are not even caring about lighting a greenscreen right “Oh just roto it” is something that makes me puke when I know the shot is scheduled to be done in less then a day by the comper guy. Its very common and balls will make it even worse as you then are excluded and can

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  24. This is sad for me. I was Nathan McGuiness’ first client at Asylum, transferring his last job at Planet Blue over to the penthouse suites atop the building that he later came to fully occupy in Santa Monica. The inferno tower was in the shower and the tablet, keyboard and monitors were merely setup on a dining room table with a client couch behind that. Nathan slept in the suite directly across the hall.

    He is a visionary and definitely had guts to move out from under Planet Blue and push the boundaries on his own. I know we’ll be seeing a lot more of him out there in the days and years to come.

    Congratulations for the successes. We’re sorry to see this particular chapter. Go out there and re-invent!

    Cosmo Street ’98-’00

  25. “Congratulations for the successes. We’re sorry to see this particular chapter. Go out there and re-invent!”

    Well said, Ben. That’s what it’s all about.

    And best of luck to all the artists, producers, and support staff as they move on to that next gig!

  26. The VFX business model is ridiculous at best. However, there are ways to profit from jobs and the onus is on the producers and supervisors at said facilities to manage the job properly. Each and every single job is BID at a profit. You can count on that. It’s the day to day management of the jobs that create losses and holes you can’t dig your way out of.
    One of the keys to every single step of the process is efficiency. Are you being as quick as possible on the task given. Many times, the answer is “no” simply due to an “established” way of doing things. This goes for producing as well as the art side of things. Fred, if you need work done, get in contact with me. I’ll put a team together for you. Artists who got screwed: that absolutely sucks. You have my crossed fingers for more work coming your way. Producers and managers who just “don’t know how this could happen”: it’s YOUR fault. We as supervisors/managers/producers need to step up and be accountable for our teams and our work. This includes capitulating to clients whims. There are ways to address concerns without just saying yes to everything. A director will be reasonable if they realize there are serious implications to the decisions they make. If you chat with them nicely and deal with them up front and honestly you will get positive results 8 times out of 10. They are just people and for the most part don’t want to see you go out of business. They would much rather establish a relationship with you so they know where to go to get the work they need. I take pride in my work but you can be sure that there stop signs that get put up when I see the shit potentially hitting the fan.
    Good luck to everyone out there! It’s a difficult time for everyone but I feel we will all come out of this stronger and with some more knowledge.

    1. Well said Rob. You’re right. There is a responsibility.

      And is it easy to say NO to a director or producer? It’s not, but it HAS to be done. Someone has to be accountable.

      There is SO much waste in VFX (more in features than commercials) because many directors want to go on “fishing trips” instead of having a solid idea and then following through.

      Part of the reason they pay us well is to “know what we can get away with”. Sure, anyone can throw CG at a problem, but the REAL elegance is knowing how the eye works, and how to create ILLUSION without spending a fortune. It CAN be done.

      It’s really no different than sub-prime mortgage. At some point SOMEONE has to pay.

  27. All VFX’ers need to broaden their skillset… VFX is NOT the future… I feel we are near the end of the vfx industry being viable in the United States.. Content creation is the future. Good, talented content creators, especially ones who get a cut of any profits from the work, can really exploit these new opportunities.

    Visual Effects for all films and most of TV are run at COST… like they are the “basement wing” of the financiers offices.

    Artists never went to business school (myself included). You are supposed to start a career in a GROWTH industry. But these same artists are also fully capable of creating something where there was nothing… and that has value… Look outside traditional vfx channels… there are many many companies that need content… they just do not know they need it until you show them.

    1. Do you know how many small shops tried “Content creation” and gone? Content Creation sounds cool. But, is already has been matured. How many Pixar the world can afford? We already have Pixar, DW, Sony, Blue Sky.

    1. The union will make it even harder for studios to compete on cost by increasing the overhead to the employer. Those increased costs have to come from somewhere, and is that going to be a paycut on the artist’s side of things? I believe in compensating artists for their talent, and strive to create a good work environment, but if IATSE forces me into a situation where my payroll becomes 15% more expensive, then who gets to pay that? That will be in consideration when I negotiate rates with artists. And then the artist will feel the double ding, because after that, then the union comes to them with their hand out and says, “union dues please”.

        1. Union dues are higher than that. And like I wrote, the employer gets hit with union fringe, which helps pay for artist benefits. It’s a trade, the artist will get medical, dental, and other benefits, but must be willing to trade dollars for that, because it is not free.

          Artists don’t get to keep the current pay levels AND suddenly get medical, dental, and other benefits in this environment. It is unfortunate, and I would rather the artist have more say in this than having IATSE tell them what to think. Look at what IATSE has set for scale for junior, intermediate and senior level artists.

          This page is full of comments on various aspects of a very complex issue. The race to the bottom, so to speak, on prices is having its toll on California VFX studios, as well as Canadian and European. Bring in IATSE, and it will make it even more difficult to compete with Asian labour rates.

          1. I was a member of local 839, my dues were $101 a quarter. I do not know where you are getting your figures. The scale numbers are the -minimum- amounts an artist is to be payed. You are free to ask for and negotiate for more, as most do. I’m not a big union booster, just want the figures to be accurate.

      1. My concern is that the artists haven’t been paid for previous weeks of work.
        Or so I’ve read. So in that regards, would the union have benefited them in any way?

  28. we should stop hoping that producers/companies will fight more, harder, or smarter for our jobs. these same companies have already opened branches in canada, india, singapore, and many other lower-cost regions. their big dilemma is how to serve a los angeles based film industry without having to pay los angeles prices.

    we need a union. just as studio features can’t hire a cheaper non-union indian grip&electric teams to come up for 2 months, nor should they be able to outsource all of the vfx work there. (and don’t even get me started about the lack of taxes, tariffs, etc on overseas vfx work, which would be HUGE if these were cars or any other high-dollar item.)

    it’s coming.

    1. Unions will not work

      Unions only work when there are no other options for the employer, or the options are more expensive or inconvenient. Traditional film unions can continue because, on the set, it would be very expensive to try to replace someone or find someone else. And because you need to have a cadre of people available with a particular skill in a particular area (like LA).

      Digital effects demands neither a particular locale nor a particular timeframe. A VFX union is about as strong as the inability to send a shot to someone else’s computer 8K miles away for them to work on it for 3 months.

      But I’d like to see someone try it regardless.

  29. Pingback: Asylum FX Website Update « Francisco S

  30. from THR : “McGuinness expressed his regret that artists will be left unpaid for their final week’s work.”

    I bet the artists I know there who are screwed out of their final paychecks probably regret that too.

    To the questions of a union, perhaps a union would make sure that artists are first on the list to be payed from bankruptcy proceedings?

      1. Having information about the Pacific Title failure which was a union shop, union members received pennies on the dollar for the severances due and nothing for lost wages. Non union members were forced to file for wages via Labor board and they also received nothing. You can’t get blood from a turnip and whether it is bankruptcy or receivership, bank always comes first and it is the employees who always suffer the worst.

        1. A union would not / could not guarantee that the artist are paid. Quite honestly a union is a total rip off. I spent 10+ years paying union dues and when Pacific title went under, the union turned their back and said there was nothing they could do as employees are not secured creditors. Bank gets first dibs. I got a final settlement from the union……7.5% of what was owed to be. Save your union dues and put it in a IRA instead!
          Also, if company goes into receivership, you are screwed with the California Labor Board as well, there hands are tied.
          My best advice, if you are still working there, LEAVE NOW… will never see another penny. STOP WORKING FOR FREE!

  31. We should figure out how to move the vfx industry to the games business model. I’ve been on a year-long game project for the first time, and here, if the game sells well, then the company rakes it in, and the artists benefit with profit sharing.

    Why can’t vfx shops negotiate for a share of a film’s profits?

    1. It happens. I have been on projects where vendors defer part of the payment. It’s a gamble on the success of the movie. But that is usually independent projects. Have fun trying to get an established studio like Fox or whoever to jump on that.

  32. #1… I wanna say good luck to all the artists and people who were involved into making Asylum – Asylum. From what I have heard none of them got any warnings in advance and were fired on the spot. Which, during hard economic times, usually means a devistating blow to all these great people’s financial state. I do not know Nathan but if the above is correct, why is there no mension of that on this forum!?
    #2… In reguards to balls, prices and low bidding. Blame Globalization and Outsourcing – there was a project that I bid on LOW, and a company out of india was able to bid 1/4 of that. I could not breakeven at that price, so it went to india… Not much you can do to compete with that, budgets are coming down, clients want x3 more then originaly agreed to – if you dont bend over and finish the work they will go to india or another shop. After finishing the work – they still go to india 🙂 Let the industry clens a little – at some point there were way too many VFX shops. One thing for sure the ones that are able to see ahead and adopt to changes will stay standing – guaranteed 😉

  33. An associate of mine, a professor at a local college asked me to guest lecture on the state of VFX. He wanted the talk to be held at a VFX studio. I didn’t want to travel very far as I hate traffic. I live in Venice, so I thought, “Hmmmm, what VFX studio is fairly close by…..” I thought again, and said ” I wonder if Nathan McG would allow me to use Asylum?” I had only met Nathan a few times, but I figured I’d ring him up and ask. He called me back ASAP and in his ever so chipper accent, said “Of course, mate, it would be my pleasure”.

    That lecture was 2 days ago. It was the first time I had ever visited Asylum… and I was duly impressed. It was exciting to be back in a VFX studio with style and attitude. Asylum felt very comfortable, like a pair of shoes I had walked in for years…. I could feel and sense its culture.

    The lecture was well received and Nathan had not let on to what must have been ripping his soul apart, that Asylum would be closing its doors, and that he would be delivering this news to his “family” only 36 hours later.

    I appreciate all of the comments by everyone on this blog, but with all due respect, very few know what it is like to run a VFX company, and as the saying goes ” you need to walk a mile in my shoes”… Nathan and Emma started something from an idea… a dream…. they willed Asylum into existence…. they employed hundreds of people that created timeless images… and they did it with style and panache. As I have no full understanding of what “sub-surface scattering” is all about, most of you have no idea of the multitude of issues that face a facilities owner.

    What you should know is that our industry is in trouble…

    and that companies like Asylum will be sorely missed.

    My hats off to you Nathan and Emma….

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  35. Hi guys i am from AUS, and this is my five cents worth…btw the five cent coin is the lowest piece of currency in Australia.

    I’ve heard and seen you all say your bit so now here’s mine.

    We are at the epitomy of the devil…
    Money is the work of the devil…incidently im not going to give you the whole nine yards on bible bashing…but i think the global economy is at its knees including all creative jobs.
    When will people start realising that capitalism has failed…
    The harsh reality of it all is communism is like a hidden dictatorship…
    and so what is left…try something else…the world is apparently going green with sustainability…very sustainable for huge corporations in terms of cash flow…im smelling it already. Education has failed … in place of academia everything leads to money…money for universities…more money for the top 1% in this forever vicious cycle of dog eats dog. People of the earth i am saying to you as a fellow human being, it is the governments that we elect that we fear when really it should be the other way around…the government should fear the people…just like the boss should fear its workers…and so on…

    It seems to me that entertainment has been dealt a huge blow…it also seems to me that there are too many creatives out there trying to look for the same jobs.
    It also seems to me in Australia that there are too many executives making too much money from the slaves of the system…When will we realise that that the marketing/media juggernaut is infiltrating our minds to behave in certain ways…

    How many adults these days spoil their children to oblivion and wrap them up in cotton wool way beyond the legal age?…since when has a child been raised where they show true respect, loyalty and forgiveness?

    This place called earth disgusts me but I still have to live in it…
    This is a message of peace and those who are suffering I do empathise with you…but until we realise as a whole nation or continent or world what is truly happening only then will we begin to understand that vfx houses like asylum and all those fallen from grace will be susceptable to more damage…

    Yours faithfully,

  36. Yet another vfx shop closure due to the race to the bottom! 🙂 We VFX artists aren’t worthy of a guild/union. It’s our bed so lets just sleep in it. There’s nothing we can do about it other than whine about it. 🙂

    “These aren’t the Droids you’re looking for. Move along. Move along”! 😛

  37. While its sad that so many people just got put out of work. I can’t help but wonder why Cali based film/post/vfx businesses demonstrate such an incredible sense of entitlement. It’s not just vfx, but post houses and other below the line groups.

    I view the Cali based film business like the NBA.
    At one time, the US clearly dominated the sport. But the world is slowly but surely catching up and will eventually be at least as good as the NBA, and for a lot less money. And by the world, I’m including all the USA outside of California. Being arrogant and condescending to those outside your little universe, just motivates them to try harder.
    They all want to be you, and eventually they will be. Sooner than later.

    The reason tax incentives in many states are going away is because most of the money went to California based production companies, and did not benefit the local economies enough to justify keeping them.
    When the Clinton Administration tried to help with incentives for movies under a certain budget. The IRS stepped in and declared it illegal (not sure what eventually happened on that one).
    Why did all this happen? Because the production companies went out of their way to game the system and not use the incentives in the way they were meant to be.

    Every one got tired of seeing incentive money go to pay for someones multi million dollar mansion on SoCal. (Even if that is slightly inaccurate, that is the current perception). What is a fact is the vast majority of the incentive money went elsewhere.

    Everyone needs to stop thinking of California as the be all, end all of US based film production, at any level.
    If you want to talk about Balls, have the balls to go somewhere more affordable to setup shop and compete. Places where 200,000.00 USD will buy you a mansion,or at least a very nice Townhome. Where office space doesn’t cost you 10K per month for a small hole in the wall. Where the state government is not a fatal combination of left and right wing extremists.
    Where the internet is just as fast, and the quality of life even better.

    I absolutely don’t believe any of that will happen, but don’t act like you don’t have a choice.

  38. Ummmmm, has anyone noticed that the United States used to drive certain industries in the world and they are not any more? I think the party may be over but there are several million drunk people walking around who don’t realize it. the 20th Century was for the Western world’s rise. The 21st Century will see the Western world struggle to remain viable while other economies do what it did previously. Grow.

    Almost everything formerly made with pride in the USA is now made in China. Why should animation be any different?

  39. The VFX industry can be compared to Detroit automakers.
    Detroit went around thinking cars can only be built by people in detroit. Then here comes the asians, europeans and start making and selling cars with better quality and better value. Then detroit almost goes belly up. Now they have taken steps to have some of the work done cheaper in other states and other countries. Now they are becoming profitable again.

    The VFX industry is going to have to do the same. Realize that we need to look at opening and using facilites in other states that have tax incentives and lower cost for doing business, Im talking about labor only. Look at Louisiana, Florida, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North Carolina, Massachusetts, New York, New Mexico. All have newly opened vfx houses and all have tax incentives and all have a lower cost of living with exception of NY.

    Doing vfx in one facility small or big only in california is the past and history. In order to remain profitable, vfx houses need to have a hub here in Hollywood, outsource to cheaper states where the costs of doing business is cheaper. I dont want to see any work going to asia or europe, so I will only mention sending work and opening facilites in other states.

    Because the cost to keep it here in the USA, without time delays, without language barriers, without possible theft of material, and with companies that use legal software, and with the highest grade of talent, only makes sense to keep it here in the USA and okay maybe Vancouver BC.

    I have heard execs say, why open a fx facility in Penn, Florida, or some other state. Where will you get the artists. Um, do you think india had artist just setting around waiting. Do you think china had an army of artists setting around waiting. No, they were recruited and trained.
    Its totally possible and totally realistic.

    Anyway, Studios demand that VFX be cheaper, partly because we dont have the respect of the studio execs, actors and directors and writers. Even though we as artists and we as company owners, make there movies look good, we make the movies happen. We are part of making that entertainment happen. Studios just dont see it that way. They think we are geeks that are over paid and play videogames all day and collect toys.

    But until we all get that respect that we demand and need, vfx houses are going to get disrespected and threatened with ” well india can do it cheaper”.
    So we need to open our eyes and minds, and open facilites where in most cases, quality of life is better, doing business is cheaper, and tax incentives are offered.

    But in closing of my rambling.

    I think that we as artists and company owners should ban together and stick together and tell the studios that we demand respect. That we are not overcharging them. That waiting 90 days to get paid is ridiculous. Im sure they dont wait on getting paid 90 days for a DVD we just bought of a movie they just produced. That the work done in the US is better quality, better results, better work ethics, and some of the most talented people in the world reside right here.

    We should banned together and pressure the govt to step in and make it difficult to for the farming and outsourcing work to other countries. Tariffs, whatever it may be.

    And an education to show studios, they spend more money and time sending work to other countries.

    Because a very large percentage of the work has to be fixed and come right back to the USA where they scramble to have it done correctly.

    Education and Economics.

    jesus did any of that makes sense.

  40. one thing missing in all this chatter is that the era of big shops is gone. there simply is not a need for it or a justification for the overhead. I can record an entire album on my laptop, why do I need to go to a recording studio and pay their staff and electricity bill. The tools are cheap and the talent is plentiful, if not overly plentiful. Rob Legato works out of his basement and there is no denying his talent in the vfx arena. Someone else mentioned an important and relevant fact in an earlier post – the studios are over paying actors for movies that don’t recoup their costs. Its the studios that have their financial priorities up their collective asses and that entire model needs to be changed. My heart goes out for the good people and the owners of Asylum. Unfortunately, there are things happening in our business that are beyond the control of even the smartest, most well run shops

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