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VFX Pros React to Cinesite Hollywood Layoff

News that Eastman Kodak is phasing out its Cinesite visual effects division in Hollywood put a bit of a damper on vfx professionals attending the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 2002 Scientific and Technical Awards gala in Beverly Hills on Saturday, February 28, 2003. Attendees became visibly downcast as they talked about the second vfx group to close in the past couple months. (Centropolis Effects in Los Angeles lost its work on THE MATRIX sequels when its parent company Das Werk in Germany filed for bankruptcy.) AWN asked some of the pros:Typically when a business closes the competitors rejoice or are relieved to be faced with less competition. But in the visual effects industry, when a house closes it seems like people at other studios are saddened. How would you explain this reaction? "I think that for us in the visual effects community, in our careers many of us have worked very closely on long and difficult post-production schedules," said Richard Edlund, chair of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Scientific and Technical Committee. "There's an 'esprit de corps' that has developed amongst us as a group as we move from project to project, house to house. When one of them closes, it usually affects some good friends, and so we lament." "The digital visual effects industry is still young and quite closeknit," said Pauline Ts'o, VP at Rhythm & Hues. "Many of us have friends at other studios, and some of these friendships span close to 20 years. During this time we have all worked long and hard for acceptance as a critical part in the filmmaking process. Remember, it wasn't that long ago that our bread-and-butter work was broadcast logos and TV commercials. Yes, we were and are competitors, but we've had our share of joint company camping trips and flag football tournaments. And because we love the work so much, we want the whole industry to succeed. It is better for all of us when each studio is healthy and capable of expanding the state of the art. That's always what has excited the best of us, the challenge of pushing the technology to further the art of filmmaking - not pushing each other out of business." "We're all in this together," Rick Wagonheim, exec producer/partner of Rhinoceros Visual Effects and Design. "We feel each other's vulnerability and pain in these turbulent times. This can happen to anyone of us. We prefer that everyone succeed and does well, than seeing competitors suffer and fail. It's a people business, and at the end of the day, it's the people that suffer. Individuals that root for a competitors failure should focus more on their own success then someone else's suffering." "The people in the visual effects industry are as competitive as in any other industry and, maybe, even more so," according to Tom Atkin, executive director of the Visual Effects Society. "At the end of the day, however, visual effects people understand and appreciate how hard it is to actually survive in this business. The competition is high and the profit margins are so small that it is most difficult to make a living. I believe that we all share the feelings about how truly hard visual effects are to make a successful career. Moreover, all of the participants really love the work. I think we all feel badly when we learn that our co-workers are out of work through no fault of their own. The work does not dictate their success or failure profitability does. Hence, it hurts us all to see our brothers and sisters have to struggle through another visual effects company shuttering its doors. We do actually care about our fellow visual effects artists, although they may 'sacrifice their young' for a job. We, more than any others, know the true love of the work that our artists possess and, it hurts us all when our fellow artists are in pain. Visual effects is a rough, tough business in which to survive. Cinesite LA has always been a battle to make profit. In todays new corporate culture it is most difficult to have a business that loses money, and yet it still survives. Kodak has seen some rather lean years lately, and it is not a surprise that they have chosen to remove Cinesite LA as a financial liability from its books. In the economic environment today, it is most difficult for corporations to run divisions at continued losses." Kodak recently beefed up its visual effects and 3D animation teams at Cinesite Europe in London, hiring much of the talent let go by Mill Film. "In Hollywood, Cinesite has done amazing work, but in the U.S., visual effects will always be a highly-volatile market where its tough to sustain a profitable business model," Eric Rodli, president of Kodaks Entertainment Imaging division stated in a release. "In Europe, market conditions and our position in the market are very different. There, Cinesite Londons established track record and unique capabilities provide opportunities to strengthen our leadership position."

"Digital imaging services are critical to Kodaks future," Rodli continued. "But, we need to concentrate our efforts and our investments in markets where we have a long-term sustainable business model with attractive rates of return and where we can achieve a leadership position. Long-form digital film mastering offers that opportunity here in Hollywood; London provides great potential to build on Cinesites award-winning work in special effects."

Since opening its doors in 1992, Cinesite Hollywood has done effects for more than 300 films, including ROAD TO PERDITION, RED DRAGON, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 1 & 2, TOMB RAIDER and HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE. Twentieth Century Fox's X-MEN 2 is amongst the house's last projects before it shuts down on June 1, laying off approximately 130 employees. Cinesite Hollywood will focus on long-form digital film mastering. Ruth Scovill, president of Cinesite Hollywood, said, "But, the original intention of Cinesite Hollywood was to be a learning environment where the company could help to establish quality standards and influence industry practices. By focusing on long-form digital film mastering which is in its infancy this unit will be returning to those roots." Cinesite Europe is working on HAPPY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN, TOMB RAIDER 2, TROY and THUNDERBIRDS. Cinesite Europe's subsidiary, Effects Associates is expected to do more model, miniatures and other practical effects.