VFX Studio on the East Coast?

Let me preface this by saying I think we’re all aware of the bad things that are happening in the VFX industry (studios chasing incentives, poor working conditions for artists, non-steady work etc.).

With that said, I want to start a VFX Studio on the East Coast (probably North Carolina or Virginia). It will be run by the artists, so there will be no unnecessary overhead. The Studio will not chase incentives, so the artists working there will be able to settle down and not have to worry about moving to another location. Artists will be treated extremely well (good benefits, good work environment, etc.). Everyone will be on salary, full-time (there may be few/no contractors).

Main Question: Is this “Dream” Studio too farfetched? If so, why? A lot of regular businesses operate this way. Why can’t a VFX Studio?

Other Questions:
Question 1: Is it feasible for a VFX Studio to be successful in an area that isn’t necessarily a film hub? My thinking: A studio can set up shop anywhere there’s good internet. Because as long as you have good internet, your client can send you the shots via internet, you then complete the VFX work at your studio, and then you send the shots back to the client via internet. So would a VFX Studio in Raleigh, NC really be disadvantaged compared to a VFX Studio in LA or Vancouver? If both locations can still do the work equally well, shouldn’t they have equal footing and success rates? Am I missing some “benefit” of being geographically located in LA or Vancouver etc. besides tax incentives?

Question 2: Would you, as a professional VFX artist in the industry, like the option to be able to work in an East Coast state (NC, VA)? Or would you rather be in an area like Vancouver or LA? My thinking: It seems like VFX artists have very few options of where to work in North America. It’s either the West Coast or Canada. So wouldn’t some artists appreciate the option of working at a VFX studio on the East Coast?

Anyway, those are my ramblings. I’m hoping to get some good feedback on whether this is all possible or not, and how to make it happen.

Thanks in advance!

I don’t know much about how VFX studios work but I would imagine they would need to be where the film makers are so you have clients that will use your services. You will also have to differentiate yourself from the others, either by extremely good work in 1 field (e.g. WETA digital with CG characters) or by price.

I would think the problems come in (with bad working condition etc.) when ‘bidding’ against other studios for work for a lower price.
So to make the dream studio viable I would recommend moving away from (movie) VFX and look more at industries with constant needs. For example:
-Architectural industry

Again you will also need lots of talented employees to build a good brand label and a large capital to start from (rent, salary etc.). Its probably best to start from one job to another until you have a good stream of work before hiring other people.

Just my opinion though.

Thatimster: Thanks for the feedback! I’ve definitely been thinking about finding something that’s more steady/constant than film/commercial work so that the studio can stay afloat during periods when film/commercial work is low.

I’m already a freelance VFX artist, full-time. So I’m currently doing what you said in your last statement, “Its probably best to start from one job to another until you have a good stream of work before hiring other people.” That’s exactly my current strategy. So hopefully it’ll work out!

Any more feedback from others would be greatly appreciated!
Even if you haven’t worked at a studio or in the VFX industry, I’d appreciate thoughts/ideas on ways to keep a VFX studio afloat during times of little to no film/commercial work. For instance, I know of one VFX studio in London that does CG renders of cars for car companies (websites where you customize the look of your car when buying a car).

Hi Zach, I’m not working exclusively in VFX, but that’s our main goal at our studio (we’re just starting this year). Also we’re not located in the US (Colombia), but from what you want to do and based also on the feedback you got from CGSociety I’d say just do what we do:

  • Since our country is not a place where the industry is well established, the actual work for VFX is not much and far apart between projects, so we have to accomodate to that and try to fit first in the advertisement industry, where work is constant and is easier to keep a steady flow of work (and cash).
    When I say advertisement I’m talking about everything from gif creation (clients ask for this a LOT for social media), to video editing. Lots of institutional videos, small animation stuff for games, motion graphics, channels ID’s, some product shots and archviz rendering from time to time, even photography :P… I think you get it, we sell ourselves as a small production company to keep the business going, and between client work we try to find those rare projects where actual VFX work is needed, and slowly build a solid portfolio around that.

That’s how I’d approach it, and since you are on the US, there should be even easier to find that kind of work. Local tv channels and ad agencies should need a lot of that small work and you could provide it; then start to build from there.
I’m not completely sure, but I think that studios like Digital Domain, The Mill and Blur started first in advertisement and then switched to VFX and animation, maybe they still rely on the ad work to keep the cash flow.

Another thing you should keep in mind is the studios that are in other countries, where the dollar price is very high (India, China, even my country); since only their location becomes a huge advantage.
For example, in Colombia the average hourly rate for a junior designer is about $20.000 pesos (about $7 USD dollars). Compare that to the minimum wage in the US, and take into account that an experienced artist won’t work for that, so let’s say you should pay between $50 and $60 an hour (I’m just guessing here, btw). The difference is way to high, and that’s why also some studios now have offices outside the US, is just cheaper and makes more sense from the business perspective.

Before thinking about the perfect place for artists to work, think about the business side of things, and try to find the best strategy to make things work. I’ve been working as a freelancer and/or employee for almost 8 years now, and I’m just starting to think about creating my own company; because there’s a LOT to take into account before diving in.
Also, find a partner that’s not into 3D, animation or VFX, find someone who actually knows about administration, and finances, and sales :smiley: