Is Technology An Afterthought in Visual Effects?

As ironic as it sounds, technology — which forms the very backbone of a visual effects studio — often receives second-grade treatment when it comes to allocation of resources. This includes the actual dedicated time the technology team gets to innovate.

Today, technology is one of the main components that help movies come to life. Technological innovation enables producers, directors and artists to accomplish things no one ever imagined possible. Why is it, then, visual effects studios shy away from innovating and implementing the leading tech?

Technology groups within studios often feel like second class citizens, and in my experience that’s not without reason(s)!

First, technology budget is an overhead every studio wants to minimize. Studios look for quick monetization, and as cutting edge tech takes time to develop and implement, studios are not inclined to invest in infrastructure innovation. Even though it’s time and again proved to be an investment that will pay back through long term cost savings and increased productivity.

Also, engineers and TDs spend the majority of their time supporting the demands of production. Funds are spent on tech only when it directly affects a particular show. Developers often don’t have the time to work on overall design and infrastructure for the studio; as I recall one of my colleagues saying “I get paid to write bad code quickly”. This results in big inefficiencies in studio workflows.

There is a great need for technology leaders to proactively and assertively educate executive producers about the benefits of properly designed toolsets. But that seldom happens. The lack of open communication between execs, producers, and studio technologists is, I believe, one of biggest contributors to the paralysis that grips the VFX industry today.

Furthermore, and quite ironically, the industry that helps drive blockbuster box office grossers has to contend with abysmally low profit margins which leave no scope for heavy duty investments in tech revamp. I look forward to the day when vfx facilities will get their due share in the billions of dollars raked in by movies they help create.

My suggestion to studio executives/owners:

  • Make technology and innovation your top priority. Develop and encourage a culture where everyone involved knows that “tech comes first.”
  • Remember, technology is the foundation of your studio, and if your business is to thrive, technology needs constant nurturing.
  • Invest in open source tools, the cloud, and solid engineers who understand the entire VFX pipeline.
  • Lastly, treat developers, pipeline TDs, and engineers with the same high standards as artists. Without these guys, there would be no VFX!

Visual effects is an amazing industry to be a part of, and it’s growing at a phenomenal rate. There is a growing need for VFX artists and an influx of opportunities in the form of global, cloud-based workflows.

The question is:

Does your studio have what it takes to make a dent/stand out in the global VFX landscape?

The views expressed above are a reflection of my experiences spanning the past 10 years in the VFX industry. If you have a question or need guidance on any of the issues I’ve discussed above, feel free to reach out. Better still; join me and other tech geeks.