By Andrew MacDonald
Issue: August 1, 2002


With a shift in work patterns for many artists, from in-house to freelancer, and with a new need to keep overhead costs down, both larger and independent visual effects houses are increasingly using the growing pool of freelance artists. VFX houses have always employed the freelance market to fill gaps in their teams, however VFX houses are now using them to construct purpose-built specialist "project hire" teams.

Today, more and more artists have the freedom to be selective about the projects they work on. They can work on more than one project at a time at home for more than one VFX house. This change has created a roster of very popular and sought-after artists, many building an important reputation for themselves. Helping make this shift possible is the changing technology. With equipment like Macs and PCs becoming cheaper and more powerful, DSL and broadband have brought cheap connectivity to the home. Combine this with inexpensive digital storage devices and the home studio starts to look quite powerful. Software manufacturers are complementing this change in the hardware platforms by developing low-cost versions of their high-end products that run on these systems, all of which are affordable for home use.

Example, Discreet's high-end compositing software Inferno only runs on an expensive SGI Onyx computer. It is marketed against their own low-cost product called Combustion, which runs on either PC or Mac platforms.

Change is in the wind, with technology opening up the world of visual effects to a lot of people - training courses in nearly all major VFX software products educate students outside the previously hard-to-get-into industry. Software is becoming easier to use with each upgrade. So fresh creative talent is now constantly joining the marketplace.

How is this advantageous to commercial producers? For one, the obvious savings on a project; for another, a wider choice in VFX companies are able to tackle your needs by enlisting the finest artists for a project. This most importantly allows the VFX companies greater ability to achieve and fulfill your creative project's needs.

However, there is still the need for experienced VFX staff people, as you cannot depend solely on plug-and-play software for all the answers. Someone needs to assume a technical direction, select a staff (in-house and/or freelance) and determine how all of these are best used.

Agencies and directors still need VFX companies with reputations they can trust to get the job done, but in the constantly-changing and adapting environment where VFX companies and freelance staff coexist, chances are better than ever that the right team will come into place for the right project - yours!