SIGGRAPH 2013 took place in Anaheim, CA, last month, bringing together more than 17,000 animators, artists, technology developers and researchers from 77 different countries. Holding an animation-oriented show in Disneyland’s back yard would seem like a good match, and by many counts, the convention could be billed as a success. Yet, there were underlying hints that reflected the shaky state of the animation and visual effects industry.
Big manufacturers, such as Autodesk, Dell and HP, opted not to have booths on the show floor, instead holding private meetings at venues nearby, where they previewed new products. A number of attendees stopped by the Post booth (which we shared with sister publication CGW), to ask if we knew of any job openings and to express their disappointment with the job fair, which they felt was smaller than in years past.
Having lunch at the food court of the Anaheim Hilton, which served as the SIGGRAPH headquarters, I overheard a few attendees discussing the state of the industry and their personal plans. One was considering leaving the business, moving out of California and heading to the Midwest, where he felt he could provide a better life for his wife and young child. No more working crazy hours and weekends, he stated. The small group agreed to keep in touch and help each other out, should they hear of job opportunities that might come up.
On the last day of the show, the “State of VFX” panel addressed changes to the industry and how pros are being affected. The transition to digital filmmaking has created a huge demand for VFX, and as logic would suggest, for pros with these skills. All of the top grossing films — Avatar, Titanic, The Avengers, Harry Potter, Transformers and Lord of the Rings — relied heavily on VFX to tell their stories, yet VFX studios are struggling to stay in business. Why?
There are a number of factors, including impractical subsidies that drive work away from established companies, competition that regularly underbids, massive overtime that is not recouped, and artists who allow themselves to be taken advantage of.
The panel, and its legal adviser, proposed a solution: “Organizing is essential,” with animation and VFX pros needing to “speak as one.” Time will tell if this is via a union or trade organization, but the clear message to attendees was to get involved and let their voice be heard.