Visual Effects Companies Meet to Consider Formation of Trade Association

'Life of Pi'

"I can eat the biscuits, but God made tigers carnivorous, so I must learn to catch fish. If I don't, I'm afraid his last meal would be a skinny vegetarian boy."

Suraj Sharma as Pi

A group of visual effects companies -- representing those from around the world -- met on Thursday to discuss its struggling business and the potential for a trade association. 

Following the meeting, they said in a group statement: "Is a VFX industry trade association in our future? It's still too soon to say. But, an informal meeting to explore the possible formation of a trade association for VFX companies did take place. The assembled group discussed the current interest in, and potential benefits of, having such an association. We plan on continuing that dialogue."

STORY: Academy to Examine 'Life of Pi' VFX in May Program

Industry vet Scott Ross -- a co-founder and ex-CEO of Digital Domain, a former general manager of Industrial Light & Magic and a senior vp at LucasArts -- initiated the meeting.

Momentum has been building to address the troubled VFX business model. Earlier this year at the "Pi Day" VFX-industry town hall meeting, Ross and others proposed a plan that involved the formation of a VFX union for such artists and a trade association for visual effects facilities.

"I support a guild or union for the visual effect industry, but it's in the timing," Ross told artists at that meeting. "You are going to sign [union cards] to organize VFX facilities, but the visual effects houses don't make money. A lot of [employee "abuse"] is because they want to keep their heads above water. They are drowning."

Alongside a union or guild, they need a trade association that could change certain criteria, Ross emphasized at the prior event. That includes the need for communication with the studios that the business model doesn't work ("to treat employees well, VFX studios need enough resources," he said), standard bids, standard contracts (with cancelation policies), lobbying efforts ("we need to show subsidies don't work"), and education policies (some directors and producers "don't have a clue").

Earlier this year, Rhythm & Hues -- whose work won an Oscar for Life of Pi -- filed for bankruptcy and was subsequently acquired.

This put a spotlight on the struggling industry. Digital Domain similarly filed for bankruptcy and was sold in 2012. Closures in recent years have included CafeFX, Asylum and ImageMovers Digital.

In March, Ross outlined why VFX houses lose money in a guest column published in The Hollywood Reporter