Trouble at Newbreed VFX Cementing Montreal’s Bad Rep

Transformers Dark of the Moon

Yet again, visual effects artists are unpaid and angry

The word has gone out again in visual effects business: “There’s trouble in Montreal.”

Quebec’s new incentives are turning Montreal into a burgeoning hotspot for the global vfx biz. But the city has a bad reputation among vfx artists due to a history of bad management, bankruptcies and/or artists going unpaid at its vfx facilities, notably Meteor Studios, DamnFX, Red FX and Fake Studios.

Now history seems to be repeating itself at Newbreed VFX, whose prexy Josee Lalumiere is the former general manager of DamnFX. Newbreed employees tell Variety they have been paid late or have gone unpaid altogether for weeks of work. According to some of their accounts, most employees have quit and the vfx company is having trouble completing its work.

SEE ALSO: Vfx Business Needs Agents (Column)

Newbreed was working on Mandalay Pictures’ “Horns,” starting Juno Temple and Daniel Radcliffe, and “Site 146” for Fox International. On its website, it lists among its credits “Piranha 3D,”  “Mirror Mirror” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”

Lalumiere did not respond to an email request for comment. A phone call to Newbreed went to voice mail.

Several artists provided Variety copies of bounced checks from Newbreed and other documentation of their claims. One provided email chains promising payment, adding that the promised funds have not been distributed. Most asked for anonymity for fear of retribution. However Mikaela Garcia, a former Newbreed artist, agreed in an email to go on the record.

Garcia said she had only two of four paychecks due her or agreed-upon travel expenses, and recounted a series of broken assurances from management, especially Lalumiere.

“To be honest, I was hesitant accepting the job at Newbreed when I saw posts by (vfx pros and pro-union activists) Dave Rand and Scott Squires. Seeing that the posts were from 2010 and 2011, I thought things had changed for the better. I was wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.”

One artist, who requested anonymity, said he had never been paid on time since joining the company and when he was paid, checks bounced. According to his account, artists began quitting once they went unpaid, and production fell farther and farther behind. “Management just walked around with a devil-may-care attitude,” said the artist. “The blame of being behind schedule was of course put on the workers.” HR staff and the company’s secretary have all quit, he said.

Another said he had only just received payment that was due May 17, and is now owed for the pay period ending June 7, “including 120 hours of overtime.”

Montreal’s infamy within vfx circles began with Meteor Studios after it declared bankruptcy in 2007 and left more than 100 artists unpaid. Two years later the artists settled for 70% of their wages. The very name Meteor has since become shorthand for deceptive management in the vfx community. Other companies in Montreal began running business seminars to improve management practices there – but the Newbreed problems suggest that the problems continue.

Vfx artist Dave Rand, one of the most outspoken voices urging artists to unionize, became an activist on behalf of vfx workers’ rights and unionization following his own bad experience at Meteor.  In a blast pro-union email to vfx artists with subject “A Brief History of Montreal,” Rand asked them to walk out if they’re not paid promptly.

“There is absolutely no excuse for these practices to continue in that town or any town,” wrote Rand. “You did not sign up to share in the risk or the reward of that business, and you certainly did not sign up to be lied to and manipulated into doing free work for projects that American studios will do quite well with while you go broke under much duress. We are not picking bananas in Guatemala, we are creating very profitable imagery.”

However the financial problems of the vfx industry have come to extend to large and small companies alike, and to numerous locales. In Los Angeles, two of the biggest and most respected vfx companies, Digital Domain and Rhythm & Hues, have declared bankruptcy since last summer.

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  1. Pongo says:

    There are many reasons WHY this might happen, from greed, underbidding, or predatory practices (e.g. pixel-f**king) by the contracting studio. Meteor was more the latter, from what I understand. I would expect a journalist of Mr. Cohen’s stature to dig a little deeper.

  2. Angry client says:

    Josee Lalumiere is a liar! She says to their clients to whom they owe money they have 200% gross in their profits!

  3. Artist 3D says:

    I’m working with India, Asian, European, African, Quebecois, American North and South and Canadian English, New Zealander, Australian, Gay, Catholic, Boudism, Muslim etc… … They are awesome and great professional with me…
    I get my salary on time and my boss doesn’t buy luxury Car or luxury House with our money ! :)
    I’m lucky ! :P

  4. Artist 3D says:

    Marc Rousseau, I’m not sure, you are telling the true…. You hired me like many artists at Mokko with one condition, don’t take holiday before end of contract and overtime will be paying in the end of contract too.
    I finished my contract and you never paid me my holidays and overtime….
    – When we don’t speak french in Montreal, Quebecois hate us
    – When we have more experiences than our supervisors, Quebecois destroy us….
    Welcome to Quebecois World !!!
    More Vfx Studios in Montreal got credit Tax from Canada and Quebec, more they pay less to Artists….More profits for you…. we could work in Montreal with one condition to be ”Slave”…

    Sorry to tell the true but that was happened there…. Sorry to bother you ! it is all true ! :(

    • @ David Cohen.. I gather that you are not directing your comment to me personnaly, your wording is kind of skewed towards this… ( never worked at Mokko)

      My experience shows the contrary. never experienced french english tensions that you indicate. and as said, You had a bad experience obviously. stop saying more profits for these studios, not the case in some studios that did not pay the artists. bad management, bad customers etc. are better reasons. I am not defending the ”bad studios’, I am saying that a reason may be that customers payment habits may very well have had a major impact.
      finally,I find that your comment about Qubecois is totally out of line and should have been moderated as your generalisation is very close to being racist. change the work Quebecois for black, yellow, jew, muslims , gay …and it would have been, Heads up Variety!

      the behavior of some studio’s owners is unnaceptable, nothing to do with the fact that they are quebecois.,

  5. Maybe it’s time to take a hard look at the reasons behind the bankruptcies, ie, very late or no payments from the customers of these studios. their own practice is highly questionnable and while the victims are always the same, the artists, sthe VFX studios cannot be the only ones bearing the blame. and the owners of these VFX studios certainly did not get richer in the exercise!!

  6. Artist 3D says:

    Tube studio, Tube Image and now Mokko Studios with the same Boss..
    After 30 years in 3D, I noticed, he still understand nothing in movie … The only things he knows he profits for his “golden chairs”… Lay off a lot of artists..Have a lot of internship for free and making more money…. I worked with him with 27,000 $/year…
    Thanks Danny ! We don’t forget you !

    When I read :”Rodeo FX, Modus, Vision Globale, Hybride, Oblique FX, Mokko …with great reputations”… hmmmm ! What do you smoke today ?????

  7. b dunk says:

    Montreal, the new bottom in the race to the bottom. Even Vancouver is worried because Montreal is giving bigger tax breaks.So picking bananas in Guatemala is starting to look better and better. The weather is nicer and you don’t have to speak French. At least at Digital Domain there was very few lay-off and everyone was paid on time, that’s how real FX houses work.

  8. Adam Goldstein says:

    I’m sorry to crash the whole “Montreal is a mess” party but honestly all my professional career I’ve worked in Montreal and I’ve never had a single bad experience with missing/late pay…There are a few rotten apples that artists should by now know by name and avoid. I know it’s hard, especially starting out you can’t pick and choose…but if those rotten apples never have a single senior/mid-level guy agree to work for them again, maybe it’ll make a difference.

    Right now Montreal is a growing hub and serious companies (Framestore, and soon MPC and Sony Imageworks) are coming to town. There is no need to work for people who won’t respect or treat you professionally.

  9. deja vu says:

    That woman did the same thing at DAMfx in 2008, and did not pay an entire crew on a project. The client had to step in and cut payroll checks so they got their project delivered. Scumbag!

  10. Another unpaid Newbreed employee says:

    A month and a half worth of pay plus overtime and expenses not paid. Sadly its true. Pay up Josee!

  11. Artist 3D says:

    It’s happening in France as well…

  12. Artist 3D says:

    Cinegroupe is also a Studio in Montreal didn’t pay artists, they asked credit tax to Canada and Quebec, keep moneys and din’t pay team. It is same politic than Cinar !
    It is all sad in Quebec

    • Tim FX says:

      This is a sad situation with these bad examples, but there are so many VFX companies in Montreal that don’t have any of these issues. Rodeo FX, Modus, Vision Globale, Hybride, Oblique FX, Mokko are all terrific companies with great reputations with their employees. There are just some people who shouldn’t run companies – they are unqualified and don’t have the proper respect and honesty to do the job properly

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