It’s been often stated in the pages of this magazine and elsewhere that the VFX, animation, and post industries are a “people business.” That’s why recruitment is so important—it’s the recruiter’s job to secure the human talent that is so key to a company’s ongoing success.
So what happens when your hard-fought-for talent ups and leaves after making magic on a major motion picture? How do you fill that empty seat with equal or greater talent? How do you keep tabs on someone you’d like to bring back when more work is available? And, how do you deal with an economic environment that portends less production, at lower budgets and tighter deadlines?
You ask the recruitment experts. And we did just that. Four recruitment executives from top companies in the US, Canada, and the UK offer their take on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and “threats” they perceive that may help or hinder their efforts as they proceed into the new year.
Escape Studios’ Dominic Davenport: Talent may also look beyond the entertainment industry to CG-oriented visualization.
Escape Studios has multiple missions. The company, a reseller of post and visualization tools, also provides the industry with animation and VFX services. But, as founder Dominic Davenport says, “Our mainstay is to train and educate,” and that includes job placement.
Strengths: “One strength of recruitment in this industry is the diversity of talent. The majority of our business is repeat business based on clients finding our people incredibly useful and rebooking or asking for more experienced or specific roles to complete the task. Visualization customers want to adopt a more post or filmic pipeline, and they’re using more high-end tools and delivering the type of images we see in movies and high-end animated features today, to sell a new city in the Middle East or in Singapore.”
Weaknesses: “For the recruitment industry, the main weaknesses are going to be finding people, especially for postproduction, who have the specialist skills necessary to deliver high-end content at a time when budgets are being cut. I think there’s going to be a crisis in salaries, at least at the high end. As the level of complexity expected by the public continues to rise, their eye becomes more refined, and you’re just going to have to throw more people at projects to deliver the same level of quality in shorter amounts of time. With less money around, either a production moves to a locality where a workforce is cheaper or rates have to be cut. In the post industry over here [in the UK], I’ve heard rumblings of certain companies cutting rates across the board.”
Opportunities: “There is opportunity for talent to change focus—like getting involved in projects using their skills for Web activity. With the boom in the Internet as a marketing vehicle, along with the move away from the traditional 30-second commercials, there is a hybrid activity that will evolve which uses all of the high-end skills for much ‘lowlier’ output. For the [boutiques], there will be a great deal of work flying their way. And with the global economy in the state it’s in, there’s opportunity for people, having acquired certain skills, to be useful not just to postproduction, or the games industry, or the visualization industry, but across them all.”
CIS Vancouver’s Dennis Hoffman: As schedules get tighter and tighter, you have to make faster and faster decisions.
Threats: “It’s hard to imagine, but I see a potential slowdown in the media industry, with less content being produced in general. There’s always a sorting of the wheat from the chaff in terms of the level of talent that’s available. The entertainment industry has done well in times of economic strife, but I do think that less stuff is going to be produced.”
Outlook for 2009: “It’s going to be a challenging year, but then again, when isn’t it? We’ve all got to keep the levels of quality and creativity high and try and enjoy what we’re doing. Otherwise, what’s the point?”
Senior vice president and general manager
Last January, Deluxe acquired Rainmaker’s visual effects and postproduction facilities in London and Vancouver. Renamed CIS, the shops joined Hollywood’s CIS studio. Hoffman oversees recruiting for the Vancouver location.
Strengths: “Finding strong leadership and talented people in all aspects of visual effects is a requirement for us to grow ourselves, our tool sets, and our stature within the VFX community. We look in the local community school systems, which are very good, for growing artists. We look more to the US and London for seasoned artists, to help grow the whole facility—and there’s New Zealand and Australia, as well. Higher-end artists learn of CIS Vancouver via word of mouth, advertising, and our knowing where people are and when their projects are coming to an end, and then actively nurturing those relationships.”
Weaknesses: “One challenge is the artist’s interest in moving to a new location. As VFX has matured and grown more global, the artist base is much more open to going to different places. One ‘trap’ when you are looking at somebody’s reel is ascertaining what he or she really was responsible for on the reel. Also, as schedules get tighter and tighter, you have to make faster and faster decisions. You can’t go through a long process. If we want to meet face to face, with London and Los Angeles, one of the weaknesses is not being able to sit across the table from somebody.”
Opportunities: “With VFX, the education process never stops—more mature artists help teach the young artists. The work can go global—you can be considered for stuff you wouldn’t have been [considered for] in the past. It’s an opportunity for Vancouver. And we’re in the same time zone as Hollywood—studio people like the idea of not having to coordinate a 3 am phone call. Moreover, we have relationships with other facilities in other countries for simpler things, like roto and matchmoving, and this exposes us to other people who we may then be able to bring over to our facility.”
Threats: “The opportunity is that we’re a global industry, and the threat is that we’re global. You either ignore it—in which case it truly becomes a threat—or you figure out how to make it part of how you run your business. We work in a creative environment, so the recruiting of people is the key factor in the longevity and strength that you build within your facility. The success of that goes back to how effective you are in recruiting the right people.”
Outlook for 2009: “The year looks to be filled with lots of opportunities. I anticipate the first half to be slower than normal due to the delay at the end of this summer because of the anticipated SAG strike. However, we are currently seeing an impressive increase in bidding for features and television, and we project that VFX work will be robust from April through the end of the year.”
ICA Creative and WhosCreative
ICA Creative specializes in locating, evaluating, and placing creative talent in the post and broadcast industries. The Web site WhosCreative provides job seekers with online tools for marketing their talent on the Internet.
Strengths: “Studios should use several methods to find talent. These days, everyone has a Web site. However, finding an individual site can be nearly impossible. Companies like WhosCreative.com showcase VFX artists’ work. Using these sites, you can pinpoint exactly the type of artist you’re looking for and then quickly view their demo reel or storyboards. However, the most effective method for finding good artists is building relationships with talent you already have. They can refer like-minded, talented artists you desperately need.
Weaknesses: “I see a weakness in attracting new talent using free jobs boards. Let’s say you are in need of a 3D Maya generalist for a freelance in-house job starting next week. By placing an ad online, you are subject to hundreds of responses, all with varying levels of skill. Your work is disrupted because you have to wade through the hundreds of responses to find the right person, confirm they are local to your area and have the right skills, check their reel (make sure the work on their reel is actually theirs), and then match personality. Working with a recruiter, such as ICA Creative, is more cost- and time-effective—it’s their job to qualify, evaluate, manage, and place excellent artists.”
Opportunities: “When you’re searching for new talent, you create a wide web of opportunity. While constantly opening doors, you may run across someone who isn’t right for the project today, but has potential for other jobs tomorrow. By ignoring that person, you will lose out on an up-and-comer who could be perfect a year down the road. Managing green talent is just as important as finding new talent.”
Threats: “Sometimes during a down economy like this, a studio will have to let someone go. Or perhaps an internal conflict results in a valuable artist leaving the company. What a studio needs to keep in mind is that during that artist’s tenure, he or she built relationships with clients. Those relationships have an immediate impact on the company’s current and future business. It is important to nurture existing talent and to build a loyal relationship so that work doesn’t go elsewhere.”
Digital Domain’s Lala Gavgavian: The directors we work with and the shows themselves are a big draw.
Outlook for 2009: “Opportunity will always exist in a down market, and this will be proven true in 2009. Budgets will continue to get bruised and battered, more so in 2009. There will be much more competition to get the gig (less work out there, way more people looking), and there will be much more pressure for artists to come off their rate.”
Director of recruiting
Digital Domain, founded in 1993, is known for its Oscar-winning VFX for films as well technical and artistic innovations in commercial and video game production.
Strengths: “A fairly consistent strength we enjoy is that Digital Domain’s projects typically include groundbreaking visual effects, and the challenge of creating them attracts great talent. The shows themselves and the directors we work with are another big draw. We also benefit from the high-end tools and technology that we use, as they attract artists looking to further their skills in particular areas.”
Weaknesses: “Because our core offering is a service business, we usually aren’t able to forecast our needs out much more than six months at a time. This means we aren’t always able to commit to great talent when it’s available. Also, it is becoming common for studios to farm out a single project to multiple companies, so when shows ramp up, many studios are looking for the same type of talent at the same time. This cycle can create challenges in securing particular disciplines that are in demand.”
Opportunities: “Our recruitment effort absolutely leads to discovering new stars of VFX. Internships in particular are a great opportunity for discovering and fostering talent. It’s fantastic to see interns turn into superstars as they gain more production experience.”
Threats: “Digital Domain has been fortunate in that we’ve had a full slate in 2008 and have been able to keep folks busy. However, the ebbs and flows of the VFX business sometimes dictate a ramp down, usually through the summer months, which does create a situation where we may have to let some talented people go. For all of us in the recruiting side of visual effects, the risk is that we won’t be able to rehire talent when we need them, as they may commit to another project elsewhere. That is a reality that just comes with the territory.”
Outlook for 2009: “I think the demand we’re starting to see now for hybrid artists who can cross visual effects, games, and animated features will only grow in the coming year as studios look to cross-utilize talent more and more. The good news for artists is that they have more freedom and opportunities to work on a wider range of projects. The difficulty for recruiters in visual effects is that we now face even broader competition for talent, not only from other VFX studios, but from the games and animation industries as well.”
is a consulting editor for Post magazine, CGW’s sister publication. He can be reached at