Speakers at SIGGRAPH call for alternative model

As the five-day SIGGRAPH confab on computer graphics and interactive techniques kicked off Sunday in Vancouver, the Business of the Business symposium unspooled with panelists saying that although the visual effects biz has significantly evolved, the model has stayed the same. And speakers called for an alternative model for the financial structure of post-production services.

Although the nature of visual effects has evolved from just a few enhancements to film footage to, in many cases, being an enormous part of the production itself, the traditional financial structure is still in place.

Marc Weigert, co-founder of Uncharted Territory, suggested there is a need for a more flexible model in which productions are paid for time instead of being asked to quote fixed bids. If a shoot requires more time in the process, then more time is paid for, thereby reducing the risk for post-production companies.

With the current model, companies are paid by the shot, which results in them having to either pad their budgets while remaining competitive and/or to take large financial risks over inaccurate estimates, which involve a lot of guesswork.

Technologist Ray Feeney said that VFX needs to be integrated into the traditional process given how large a role it plays in many productions. “It needs to be treated as part of production, as it is no longer post-production.” he said, arguing for a more cohesive creative environment

However, Victoria Alonso, exec VP, VFX and post-production at Marvel Entertainment, argued that from the perspective of a studio, shots are a measurable asset, saying that companies should be knowledgeable enough to set a proper budget and ask production companies for more money if an original prediction turned out to be too low.

She also argued that companies won’t lose projects to low-ballers because production companies are looking for high quality. “We’re not going to go to Costco,” she joked. She urged companies to say no when they feel they can’t deliver the necessary quality without charging more.

Meanwhile Namit Malhotra, CEO of Prime Focus, noted that most VFX companies are losing money on a regular basis, with many companies taking up to 10 years to turn a profit, illustrating that the current financial model for the VFX and animation business is not a sustainable one.

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