Episode 192 — Is the VFX Industry Stable?


Episode 192 — Is the VFX Industry Stable?

I want to talk about the topic I get asked about all the time: The state of the industry in 2019 and is the industry stable? I want to dive into this subject because it’s pretty serious, at least for me. I want to answer this question and talk about all the scares we’ve had in the industry.

Some of you may take this Episode the wrong way. I’m okay with that! This is my outlook and my opinions. I will dive into the reasons why I started this Podcast in the first place, as well as some of the results that’ve happened when people have applied what I talk about — to become successful. And I couldn’t be more proud of that! To me, this is a giant pay-off, so I’m going to continue giving back!

In this Podcast, I want to talk about the common and unnecessary fears about the state of the industry and how to bypass them by focusing on constant learning and evolving both as an artist and a business.


[00:45] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

[01:50] I have a new VFX Training Course available right now at www.VFXCourse.com. I’ve been mentioning it a lot lately because it’s a great training: almost 20 hours of high end live action training. This is a massive Course and you can download all the assets! It’s entirely free so get it now!

[02:37] I’ve also been publishing a lot of YouTube videos on my channel. If you go to my website www.AllanMcKay.com, visit the VFX Toolkit and see everything there. I want to make sure you’re quipped with everything you need for your career — and to be successful. The VFX Toolkit is a list of guides, e-books, training and everything you may need for your career. I want to equip you with all the necessary tools!



[04:52] I wanted to talk about this subject for quite some time. This question has been reoccurring. I’ve kept away from it for some time but it did come up in the Podcast a couple of times:

In general, I’ve kept away from negativity because I feel that negativity isn’t a solution. Some of us love hanging onto it and talking about these big fear points that have no metrics to! I’ve had some interviews get high jacked when the other person would want me to talk about how bad the industry is and how terrible the working conditions are. It’s such a buzz topic.

[06:24] I want to go back to 2013 when Rhythm & Hues was going through a rough time and eventually got shut down. Some other studios were going through hard times as well. I’ve downsized my own studio but because I was supervising a really big project onsite for 6-7 months. It made no sense to have a really expensive office in Santa Monica where I wasn’t going to be spending much time. There were a lot of shifts going on. Even with the studio I was supervising at, I noticed a lot of negative talk about all the work going to Canada or India, and all the badmouthing of the industry. A lot of it had to do with insecurity, of course, and fear and what was happening in the news. There were some people who had a good heart when they started talking about rallying and unionizing. They had good intentions. But there were also people who were leaning into those pain points and pushing those buttons because it meant they could benefit from it. VFX Soldier and Scott Squires had really good intentions and they were putting their heart and soul into making changes. But the others were stoking the fire to build their own audience and following around themselves.

[08:35] I looked at everything that was going on. I had already been doing a lot of talks and writing articles (The Productive Artist: https://allanmckay.clickfunnels.com/toolkit_guide_productiveartist). I decided not to stoke the fire. I didn’t want to lean into the fear and the discomfort of knowing that there was no real solution. Because all that’s going to do is cause more fear and build a bigger problem. That’s why I looked to building a solution within ourselves. I didn’t think that unionizing was the answer. What I decided to do is build a community and provide tools to help people solve their problems. For me the solution was to equip people with tools to:

  • Build their skills;
  • Get work;
  • Attract clients;
  • Build their brand;
  • Understand how to negotiate better salary.

[10:22] That’s why I launched my Podcast! I wanted it to be a platform that would equip you with the necessary skills to survive any situation and get opportunities for yourself. That’s always been my stance: to make you make things happen, and make you stronger. I didn’t want this to be coming from the direction of fear.

[11:12] In reality, there were shifts in the industry (we’re still feeling the ripples of those shifts today). But a lot of it has been more directly in LA. So the people who are saying, “The industry is unstable!”, it’s because a lot of us in LA relied on it being the center of the industry. You would have this outlook about outsourcing to India or China before. I even remember at ILM the talk of “going to the dark side” if you were going to Singapore. It’s ridiculous but it’s the fear of losing the security of that place of where the work is. In 2013, the industry just globalized and the entire world started having the same opportunities we were having in LA. And it wasn’t that the industry was falling apart! There was some disruption. LA didn’t have the reign anymore. Other places in the world started having the same opportunities. At the same time, it was just a massive shift that was long overdue. You could work in China working on hero shots. You could work in Australia. Vancouver started to get a lot of the VFX work. A lot of the bigger production studios started enforcing that if you wanted to do their work, you needed to have an office there. It meant that Vancouver had the majority of the work, but there was still so much work in LA!

[14:10] I keep losing count of studios opening up in Vancouver. London, NY, Montreal — all these cities are now getting the piece of the pie. It’s been interesting to see this shift. Before if you wanted to work in Hollywood — you would have to relocate to LA. Now we have multiple wells of work. There is so much work going on in LA, you don’t need to leave LA. The industry itself is thriving! There is so much work going on! Some students get worried about the influx of students from all over the world who are really talented. The reality is: There is so much work happening, the need is aligned with the amount of incoming students and new talent. There is also more noise around, so you need to find ways to stand out. Which is why building your brand is so critical in this moment! Before being good was enough. Being great now — isn’t enough:

  • You need to have a brand;
  • You need to have a presence;
  • You need to build your network!

[17:05] Just today, I was talking with a Scanline artist. He knew that it wouldn’t be enough to stand out to just send the reel. It was about staying in touch in between sending his reel and establishing the relationship. This is what he learned from my Podcast. For him, it was about building the rapport. It makes me so happy to hear how people like him benefit from my Podcast! It makes my day to hear that. I don’t say that to brag. It’s reassuring to me to see you take action, to stand out on your own.

Being Good Is No Longer Good Enough!

[18:43] It’s critical for all of us to realize that getting by isn’t enough anymore. Being good at your job great! But the key thing is that we are a business. So many artists get allergic to business. Some use “manager” as a derogatory term. (Someone called me that when I was younger!) The conversation with that Scanline artist was that he didn’t expect to excel as an artist, until he learned to manage himself. If I were a one-man studio, being just the artist isn’t enough. I have to be my manager, my marketing person, etc. I have to wear different hats. That’s what it takes to be successful in 2019! Just going out to make art isn’t enough. It takes a lot more work than 20 years ago when the studio would train you. Now, it’s expected to have the core knowledge and they will train you the rest of it. The landscape has shifted and it requires us to learn more as artists. I’ve been doing this Podcast for 4.5 years and the people I see succeed are the ones who apply this material: learning, growing, evolving their skills, creating their presence, being present on forums, building their brand, learning to negotiating, treating their career as a business.

[22:45] So when people ask me, “Is the industry stable?” My answer is: It’s a constantly moving and evolving machine; and it requires for us to constantly better ourselves and evolve as well. As long as we do that, we will be rewarded with opportunities. It doesn’t mean that we need to live in fear. It means that we need to step up. I’ve said this before: I get frustrated when I hear people say, “VFX is a young man’s game” because they aren’t willing to put the effort into their careers. If you aren’t putting the effort in, you are going to become a dinosaur. I’ve had people say, “I want a job where I don’t need to problem solve.” My response to that is: “VFX isn’t for you!” If you just want to be the button pusher, you’re highly replaceable. I’ve written tools that replaced people on my team who weren’t willing to evolve. It’s all up to you! If studios start using new tools and you have to learn those to stay in the game.

[24:30] That thing with new software is that you have to keep up with your skills. So many new packages are based on transferable knowledge. It’s not a reason for fear to be replaceable. It’s about focusing on growth. If we continue moving forward, we’re going to be fine. Just like when you look at a car, things will begin to break down if you’re just paying attention to the wheels. The same goes for our business: We need to keep everything in check. Just because we have a job doesn’t mean we should stop building relationships and networking. We should keep an eye out on what productions are happening. (You also need to pay attention to your health and personal life. If you don’t pay attention — things will get derailed and affect your work.) You need to balance all these things! It’s about keeping everything in check.

[26:49] Part of keeping that balance is staying out of your comfort zone. Being comfortable mean complacency and you aren’t pushing yourself. It’s a common recurring thing: We like to say that things are unstable; or that the studios are evil; or that the young people are taking our jobs. Instead, we need to look at ourselves and be the answer. There are artists who are go-getters and who are willing to put in the work. We want to blame others for our problems. (Of course, there are bad conditions! Of course, sometimes you need to move to a different city. But nowadays, you can work remotely from anywhere. It does take time to learn to negotiate these things. You can create the opportunities you want but it doesn‘t mean it’s going to happen right away.)

[28:49] I love that I’ve been putting so much content out on YouTube. It’s a great medium / platform where I can share the knowledge. For me, finding YouTube was really great. In addition to the Podcast, it helps me make the change. There are some people who tend to tear everything apart, “I’ve heard this all before!” I always laugh, “Have you tried it? If you’ve heard it before, maybe there is a reason behind that!” I will admit that I’ve acquired some bitterness toward people. They are so adamant to clinging to failure because it gives them the reason to complain and blame the world. But then there are people who do the work and succeed. I love hearing their stories! They’ve taken the risks, put in the work — and achieved their dream jobs. I’ve just spoken to an artist who wanted to switch from architectural viz to VFX, move from Brazil to Vancouver. But he had his dad tell him, “It’s time to get real! You’re going to ruin everything.” And the artist said, “Dad, you’re going to see my name in the movie credits one day!” He said he would use the negativity and doubt as fuel to drive him forward. Three weeks ago, he got his dream job, working on a dream project. He will be able to sit down with his dad and say, “I made it!” It’s for the people who work hard! So ignore the people who want to hold you back. Surround yourself with people who push you forward. I’m so fucking happy for him! We talked about what he had done from the Podcast and the Guides. Even rejection from the studio over and over meant that the studio was getting to know him.

An Industry of Opportunity

[33:38] There is no instability in this industry. It’s an industry of opportunity. When you talk about the late hours and the hard work, the truth is: What industry doesn’t have that? If you were a lawyer, you would need to put the hours in, in the beginning of your career. Then you continue working your way up. When you become partner, you don’t have to work that many hours. It’s about perseverance and doing the work. Showing up isn’t enough. Being good isn’t enough. You need to be a business and have the balance in treating all the areas of the business with the same amount of attention. So have that check list and make sure you’re doing all the different parts.

[35:04] You have to put in the work, you have to be willing to grow. I always say, “You have to be in it — to win in!” I hope this resonates with you. The beauty is that you may need to work some crapy jobs in the beginning. But as long as you continue doing all the things I talk about in this Podcast — checking things off your list — you will begin to evolve and how to negotiate your rights. Those shady studios, you can smell them a mile away. You will become smarter and realize what your expectations should be. There are studios who will be a nightmare to work with. In that case, I charge them “The Asshole Tax”. I can get a bundle of cash from them because I know how to negotiate (and then go work on a dream project) or I can say no and look to work at a more balanced, healthy environment. So yes, there are places like that out there. But you can pick up on that because you’ve figured out what’s right for you and what your non-negotiables are.

[37:50] Everything is constantly shifting. You can choose to be worried. Or you can look back at 20 years ago and see how things shifted. You’re going to be okay as long as you’re balancing it all. It’s time to step up and get hungry!

I hope you found this valuable and not as negative. And I hope I’ve served you well with my Podcast. I want you to take advantage of it and get to your dream job. I want this to be a positive. I want to thank all of you who’ve reached out. I can’t reply to all your emails, but it’s been so fulfilling to hear your stories.

If this has made you uncomfortable, this is a chance for you to make a change. Use this as a kick in the ass. Please reach out to me anytime you want: [email protected]. I’ve got so many resources on my website to help of you with your career.

Before I go, I want to mention I was recently talking with guys from Lucas Film. I only wanted to learn to blow things up, not talk about career. But the most fulfilling part has been working on my career and learning these skills. That’s the reason I’ve been successful, including being productive and managing myself. These are the things you need.

I will be back next Episode. Until then —

Rock on!


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