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VFX Cloud Houses: What Do You Think?

It seems everything in VFX these days is complicated and controversial. I know of several VFX houses that are, or will be, opening in the cloud. That means you work from home, wherever that may be, doing various levels of professional VFX work. I doubt these houses will take on the really big stuff—at least not for now—but they will provide jobs for talented people who would otherwise not have access. I see that as a good thing.

Will they compete with U.S. houses? Well, yes. Some are U.S. houses. Will it be like sending work overseas? Yes and no.

I know of some very talented VFX people who for various reasons had to move away from centers where they could find work. They are now working outside the field and some are not happy about that. But even if you live in backwoods Idaho, where there is no regular internet connection, you'll be able to possibly get to back to your passion: VFX, and perhaps even character animation. How? HughesNet satellite Internet service, Exede satellite Internet Service and, in Europe, SES Broadband. Satellite Internet is not perfect by any means. It can be expensive and has latency problems. But I assume that the cloud houses will foot the bill for each employee—it's only right—and, even with the latency, the transfer rates can be very fast. I was one of the very first users of HughesNet, and it can be very effective.  It should be part of a cloud house's overhead and if it's not, look elsewhere. After all, they don't have to rent a big expensive facility. Don't let them exploit you. The best of us get hungry for work from time to time, but never sell yourself short. Of course, many of you want more pay than you produce. Keep that in mind as well. Be reasonable.

The yes part of my yes-and-no answer is that people like my dear friend Ravi, who lives in Sri Lanka, will have an opportunity to do real work on solid, major motion pictures and TV, and get paid a decent wage. He's talented, motivated and just a really cool guy. He deserves an opportunity to work on tentpole projects. And there are always folks who live in poor economies who may become locally wealthy. No promises, but I can see it happening.

Okay, that brings up wages. Will these houses pay what they can get away with, discriminating against those in poor countries? Or will they pay a fair wage across the board? I don't know, but in my next installment I'm going to ask. Ravi is just one of the people I know in distant countries who are talented and out of work, or being badly exploited, because they can't live near a major house for family, economic or health reasons.

I also know of talented, skilled people both in the US and abroad who are handicapped but could work from home, where going to a studio every day would be prohibitive. I've taught spinal-cord-injured young people VFX and character animation in Spain. Given an opportunity, they could support themselves. Having worked with them, I know these people are really talented and need work. Being confined to wheelchairs and possibly needing special apparatus to control their computers, they are at a disadvantage. Here is where “unfair” might well apply.

I know a young woman in Europe who can only work about 4.5 hours at a stretch because of a severe illness, and that never happens at the big houses. If she worked in the cloud, she could do it from home and sleep when she needs to. Just the opposite is true as well. I know people who like to work 12 hours straight and then crash. Working from home can be a boon for that kind of behavior. How about the mother with two children whose husband died recently? She needs to work, has the passion and talent for VFX, but also needs to be at home with her pre-schoolers. The could be a boon to her as well.

Unfair Competition?
Maybe a little, but if your VFX house is on its last legs because of competition, perhaps you should stop blaming the competition and start looking inward. The solid houses are not going to be bothered one bit by these smaller (at first) cloud houses. Unfair? I think that is an overused word in this industry. Competition is fair. What's unfair is artificial market constraint.

If you're one of the thousands of VFX artists who are out of work, perhaps this is your opportunity to get back on the horse and ride it as far as you can. Can U.S. and Canadian cloud houses effectively compete with foreign houses? That remains to be seen, but I believe if they play their cards right they can.

How do these houses work? Do you have to buy your own expensive software or use bootleg software? I don't know. I'll ask, but my assumption is that the cloud house will provide you with licenses. In the last edition of the blog, we learned the the cloud house Scarecrow Visual Effects is negotiation with Adobe for a license scheme that works for their cloud house. Think of it—work from home on important TV and motion-picture projects, and get your software provided free.

Okay, I purposely haven't given you all the answers because I have yet to get them and it's good lure to get you back here. I'll be interviewing some of the powers that be in the cloud house realm. There are more of them than you might think. I'm not so sure how legit one is since they don't answer their phone during regular hours. I'll dig into it.

Next blog edition I will share what I find and give contact information. I may even do an entire blog giving each cloud house representative so many words to pitch their opportunities to you. Let me know how you feel about such a thing. It seems legit to me.

Please, if you are going blast me or the cloud houses in the comments, use your name and own up to it. You've gotten much better at that. I do not like anonymous potshots. I take this blog seriously and my drive is to help us all find answers. I'd like you to do the same. In the recent past, we've had some wonderfully helpful posts from some top people in the industry. Let's keep that up. Let's try to be as positive as possible and get people back to work.

Okay, I'm already working on interviewing people for the next blog. Finding out interesting things. I firmly believe I'm uncovering some unique opportunities for VFX artists, and possibly character animators as well. Let's talk in a coupla weeks, in the meantime, since we all enjoy the comments section, take the time to say what you think below.

-P-

37 Comments

Categories: Blog, General, VFX
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  • John Brune

    It doesn’t matter what I think. The cloud is just another fad. Just like 4K it’s a catch phrase that has had its day in the sun. Could storage is only as good as the people who maintain it and who is willing to pump money into its maintainence. Once it becomes obsolete (give or take 6 months) creatives and corporate assholes will stash their ‘art’ elsewhere. After all it’s all ‘green’, right? We live in a disposable society. On with the next fad.

    • Peter Plantec

      Hi John, i thing the term “cloud” is evolving to reference any virtual place that allows,people to store and retrieve data, or where work can be done remotely. The cloud houses are literally virtual VfX studios. So in the sense used here and actually in the Adobe series…we’re talking about the virtual work cloud. I think cloud work places make a lot of sense in a global economy…which fast upon us.

  • Tobias

    >>I may even do an entire blog giving each cloud house representative so many words to pitch their opportunities to you.
    Great article Peter – and I’d sure be looking forward to that as well! Please continue the good work; thanks for taking the time to investigate topics thorougly, that’s always appreciated!

    • Peter Plantec

      Tobias,
      I’ll be interviewing the CEO of a US Cloud House tomorrow or Wednesday. I’m crossing my fingers that these guys know their stuff and have good intentions. I really want some of my out of work readers to find some answers here.

  • Carlos

    I’d be very interested in knowing more about companies that give vfx artists the option of working remotely. Please write a follow up post. This would be a great option for artists who were forced to relocate to a major production hub and wish to move back to their home countries.

    Working remotely is already an option in other tech savvy ( and not so tech savvy fields ) and I believe it would be a great boon for global vfx talent. I’d be interested in knowing more, not only in film focused vfx companies that are offering the option of working remotely, but also companies that would allow for remote work in 2D/3D for commercials, web video, arch viz, print, etc.
    Thank you for this article.

    • Peter Plantec

      Carlos, I’m not used to hearing such nice things…my head is starting to swell. Thank you much. I had not considered the idea that cloud houses would allow people to return home. Thanks for sharing.

  • caleb

    Houdini guru VFX dude available for consulting and development. 25+ years experience. Not cheap. No death marches. Problems solved, and efficiency gains guaranteed. :-)

    -Caleb Howard

    • Peter Plantec

      Well,said Caleb…and an honest assement I’d say.

  • Ivan DeWolf

    I delivered a 5-shot sequence to a Hollywood VFX facility from out of a house in Bishop, CA back in 2010, and I worked on a CG features and stereoscopic ride films from Crested Butte CO back in ’96-’98. Based on my extensive experience, I’d say the biggest challenges are not on the artist side, but, are on the client/management side. You have barely literate directors that are unable to communicate by any means other than in-person, passing directions on to VFX supervisors (some of them, toxic) and sub-par producers (if you’re a producer of merit, why would you remain in this environment?) passing commands down to artists. The biggest management secret is that it’s the artists that run the show, by leaking information across the watercooler. if it wasn’t for the management challenges, the industry would’ve gone this way decades ago. If we can increase inter-artist digital communication, increase supervisors use of email, we might be able to work the industry around to getting this to work….

    • Peter Plantec

      Ivan, good points. I think you may share some of Markus’ points. Read what i posted about collaborative work environments. I will add that the 5D organization initiated by Alex McDowell, and of which i am a founding member, has been pushing for and inspiring better collaborative virtual work environments across the entire film industry. It is coming. In these environments concept artists, VFX artists, supervisors and directors can work very efficiently, saving development time and money. But as was said earlier, it’s all about communication…that means people,have to be able to communicate visual ideas effectively and technology is of only minor help here.

    • Peter Plantec

      And Ivan, I think you know my stand on client side Toxic VFX Producers and sups. They are the bane of our industry and it’s hard to believe they still get work. They cause enormous problems, losses at houses and distribute stress and emotional pain like pixie dust. I almost think we need to call them out by name and make an example of them. There is definitely a consensus on several of them, who they are and why they are so toxic.

      • caleb

        I have names…

  • Markus Manninen

    Hey Peter. Over the years I’ve been able to use talented artists I know and have worked with previously from remote locations. It’s a great opportunity to be flexible with resources. I wouldn’t call it cloud based, but still. The challenge I’ve come across is using “unknown” talent remotely. Communication is key in what we do, and having an established vocabulary is the only way I’ve found the remote individual experience successful to a point where I could see it scale or replace a local team. I am hopeful that collaborative tools will enable to bridge the communication gap soon.

    • Peter Plantec

      Markus…i think the cloud house is not a new idea, you’re a pioneer actually. These new houses are just a new take on working remotely. But i believe they offer a more organized and connected way of working. Working together in virtual environments can be amazing. Just before Microsoft bought and killed Caligari, i visited the latter and they demonstrated a remarkable 3d collaborative work environment where three people were building a 3D scene together. One was in silicon valley, another in Vancouver and a third in Prague. I believe this trend will evoke entirely new collaborative pathways for decentralized teams to work together.

  • Rahul K Venugopal

    Thanks for this really interesting Article Peter, I have been working on several international commercials projects remotely for past 9 months. I am single and I am willing to relocate anywhere but the Visa bureaucracy have been really tough in the recent times and it is almost possible to find jobs in these global VFX cities. Most of the times I do get cleared in the interviews and later they turn me down just when they realize it would take time to process the visa. Unfortunately most of the VFX hires happens prior 2 months before the project and that makes it almost impossible to have enough time for visa prepossessing especially when you belong to a developing Asian country. It’s not that I want to move abroad and settle in western countries but if I can work on A listed projects, at this moment I really don’t mind working even in a studio located in Somalia or Afghanistan (No offense to anyone, purely pun intended). I hope things change for good!

    • Peter Plantec

      Thanks for the input Rahul. It has to be very frustrating to live in such a situation. Do you have questions you’d like me to,ask the Cloud house people? Or perhaps a suggestion of what accommodations would suit you well.

      • Rahul K Venugopal

        Thanks for the reply Peter, I think definitely like you mentioned having cloud based software license would be a good idea but I am really curious how they would manage NDA for high profile projects, especially when the artist is completely unknown to them and from a different country from where they operate. Up till now, most of my overseas clients were studios I had already worked on-site before or I knew them through friends I met while working abroad. I think it’s a very tricky issue as there is no such international guidelines or law institutions when it comes to working in cloud based business.

        Moreover if this idea really picks up I hope it turns out to be a highly competitive platform for all the artists from around the globe rather than another medium of exploitation for cheap labour from developing or underdeveloped nations.

        • Peter Plantec

          I agree, I want to see a end to VFX artist exploitation. Too often a VFX artist’s passion has caused them to accept awful work terms.

  • Ravi

    I think this can be the next revolution in our VFX industry. Think how much this new trend can help talented people who are isolated in hard to reach areas in the world. And thanks a lot Peter for Mentioning me. 2014 stats with lots of surprises!

    • Peter Plantec

      Welcome Ravi, what kind of services would you like to see a cloud house provide?

      • Ravi

        As you mentioned Peter, I think they will have to provide software solutions if they wish to have their work done by legal software only. because if some artist is using expensive legal software, that means that artist is already having a reasonable income to buy those; means they will have little need to work with a cloud house. So I see this as the main service they need to provide.

        And Peter, I would like to know how Proprietary software/ tools will be distributed/Handled in these cloud houses, cause I see that, there they will face some problem if they wish to keep their tools strictly to themselves.

        And a “cloud house representative blog” idea is brilliant Peter. It will be a treasure for artist like us.

        • Peter Plantec

          Im not sure i agree with you on this, Ravi. I believe the drive to be a part of a global group, working on major motion pictures and making a fair wage will be a powerful motivation factor. As for the software distribution. As i see it now, the houses will own the licenses and can disable the software when you are not working for them. The licenses themselves can be easily distributed via email.

  • Nick Lambert

    Very interesting article & responses. We founded BoundaryVFX in 2009 & would love to add to this discussion. Working remotely & dealing with the associated issues was our main focus before we formed the company. Please let me know if we can provide more information for your next article.

    • Peter Plantec

      Nick, please contact me directly and i’ll send you a,list of questions i need help answering. Find me on FB or,send a note studiodaily to,get,in contact.

      • Nick Lambert

        Sent a friend request on FB, turns out we both know Kevin Bourke :)

  • Nick Giassullo

    Fantastic article Peter! Alot of great points. It’s good to see these types of discussions popping up more and more online these days.

    In my experience I just recently completed a feature film remotely as a environment/mp artist. I’m seeing 80% of my work being shifted remotely while the remainder work was in-house. It’s more cost effective for the artist and the company to work from home especially when most if not all jobs are contract based ranging anywhere from a few days to a few months. There are no relocation costs, or need of a work permit working from home, ontop of that it’s draining jumping from state to state country to country. People argue that working remotely “your not part of a team” or “we need you in-house only,” but, I think that’s an old way of thinking, and those people are afraid of some illusional communication gap with not having someone physically there. Online communication, whether it be, googlechat, skype, shotgun etc. is getting better and better and it won’t matter anymore where we are located as long we’re communicating. Also what’s really exciting is sites like Kickstarter, where film makers and artist can go to pitch their own ideas and get financial support without having to depend on a film studio to put on a big screen, youtube, or vimeo for people all over the world to see. This past year I had a chance to do paid work for two Kickstarter films, in my expereince I see alot of prospect in that.

    In a global industry we have to think globally, and moving talent around globally every year is, and won’t be as effective as the software, hardware, and social media devices that enable us to work remotely anywhere in the world in the first place.

    • Peter Plantec

      Nick, thismis optimistic and helpful. Thanks, you make a number of good points. I think as an industry we do have to begin to think more globally…resistance is futile.

  • http://digital-soapbox.com/ Nick Robalik

    High speed internet access and sites like YouTube have changed everything but VFX Houses’s OCD level of control in wanting people on-site, all the time, day or night. It’s ineffective, causes prices to rise, and often counter-productive for getting the right people on a project at the right time.

    When 15 year old kids can do work as good as or better than appeared in movies only a few years ago – or as good as TV shows get today in terms of VFX – from their parent’s home, with an off-the-shelf computer, times need to change, and the companies need to change with them.

    • Peter Plantec

      I just have to agree with you on last part. I do see a place for the traditional VFX studio, particularly for the most difficult and complex shots that require intense supervision and communication with the clientside VFxsup. But you are right. The crash of so many houses recently brings home the fact that much of our VFX Work can be handled with less overhead. It’s like for some scenes the studio has to go heavy because only a major house can handle it. The key for me is that cloud houses need expert supervision and high standards as well as probably inhouse training to get everybody on the same page.

  • Ed

    Hello Peter ,

    I work at a production company that has its own inhouse post-production department. We have offline ( FCP , AVID … ) , Online (Flame ) , and therefore we use many remote freelancers for 3D, animation, rotoscoping … and our experience is not all good.

    With
    many of these freelancers do not get to have the same level of
    understanding about the quality, or the deadlines are not met 100%
    online or perhaps because they take more work than they can do, or do not know how
    to say “no” for fear to loose you as a client. Sometimes
    after a long render and going short on time they send files with technical problems, with errors during the upload / download…. Communication is not always easy, for example if you are talking to someone in China and even in India, with… a little English …. and when you enter into aesthetic-creative details, the vision is quite different.

    The
    complexity of the work increases, and this requires the presence of a
    producer/s permanently only for this task, coordinating the work, in a
    rather strenuous and unrewarding task, adding some money to the final cost, and what you are saving is what you are spending.

    • James Hattin

      That’s the thing Legion does differently. We use only senior talent to help minimize the most common issues. Using Google hangouts for communication and screen sharing as well as being ‘face to face’ cuts down quite a bit on the problems you are having. The trade off though, is that senior artists get to do roto and tracking and cleanup, because even though a lot of us don’t love it, we know how to do it and do it well. There wont be an enormous cost savings to our clients, but they will get back the right thing, on time, and on the budget they said they would do it for.

      • Peter Plantec

        James. I think this too shall pass. Once you get some more milage on your system, and train your remote artists, the senior people will be doing less corrective work and more hands on supervision. Hang in there. Delivering excellence will become easier as the system matures and evolves.

    • Peter Plantec

      Ed you bring up some interesting points. These are things the serious cloud houses are addressing. Not easy. They are working out the communication problems. It would seem to me that hiring people with poor English skills is asking for trouble. I’m finding that many overseas artists have an excellent commend of English…Ravi is a good example. Many have actually worked in the US, for name brand VfX houses and know the ropes. I think hiring the right people is key. You need people you can communicate with both linguistically and aesthetically. You also need systems that facilitate this.

  • Peter Plantec

    Next post I’ll have some very interesting material from the CEOs of the Cloud houses. I’m generally impressed with the systems they are working out for such seemingly simple things as pay. Not so simple across many currencies. The cloud houses are all quite different in how they approach things. One is being created by a very sharp business man…now there’s a switch. I’m very optimistic. I think you will be too.

  • Jason Robbins

    I do feel that bigger VFX houses are suffering overheads from delivering the highest standards of work and that things need to change. Managing large teams of remote individuals does consume a lot of time and presents its own problems as you’re opening to discussion here. I believe that a middle ground can be achieved though, I’ve started a small studio in partnership with another artist in the South West UK, with a view to assembling a strong, compact, and efficient team that can deliver larger blocks of work than individuals could manage. Due to our remote location our overheads are smaller and we can pool resources and it would mean only one point of communication is needed between the remote team and the base location for the project. This can allow people to work together in locations more convenient , forming pockets of artists rather than travelling around the world to follow jobs and tax credits.

    I look forward to your further articles on this matter and maybe being able to work with some of the cloud based companies you’re looking to mention.

  • tnarey

    This is something I’ve seen being kicked around the water cooler from time to time at some of the studios I’ve worked at. Are there any Cloud VFX houses currently in existence?

    • Peter Plantec

      Yes, I’d I’ve just uploaded my next blog discussing of the first two. It will be posted soon. I will follow with info on several more shortly. Each works a little differently. Lots of great ways of dealing with the complexities of working with remote artists.