The VFX industry continues to debate the recent revelation that Digital Domain CEO John Textor intends to fuel Tradition Studios, the company’s new feature animation studio in Port St. Lucie, Florida, with student labor.
As Daily Variety reports, Digital Domain has set up a college degree program in conjunction with Florida State University, and as part of that program, students will do CG work on some DD projects for college credit. Textor was caught saying that tuition-paying students would pay "for the privilege" of working for DD.
The CEO’s gaffe prompted a statement from the Visual Effects Society (VES):
“As a professional honorary society, VES has become aware of some unsettling comments from Digital Domain's CEO regarding its employment practices. We were shocked to hear how DD hopes to utilize interns to accomplish professional visual effects work. If the reality matches the remarks of DD's CEO, then we believe DD is not only denigrating the value of artists who do incredible work under trying conditions, but are also unfairly taking advantage of a difficult job market and will ultimately harm the ability of visual effects artists to survive in the future if such an imprudent business model became the norm.
However, and equally important to note, if DD's internship program is merely the same as those that exist in many schools across the country, and they're only guilty of having their CEO use ill-advised, self-boasting rhetoric that happened to be caught on tape, then we hope the recent loud reaction and unified voice of visual effects artists around the globe has caused DD to be more sensitive and appreciative of the plight of those artists who struggle to endure in an industry that is constantly redefining itself yet always seeks to maximize the ways it uses their art and magic to produce record profits for the entire industry.”
Textor responded to critics in an email sent to employees on Monday:
From: John TextorDate: Mon, 9 Apr 2012 16:22:37 -0700To: John TextorSubject: My Comments On Our Education Program
I want to take a minute to speak to the discussion happening around the industry that started with comments I made about our education program. I chose my words poorly and the industry took me to task. More importantly, though, my remarks threw a negative spotlight on Digital Domain that the company doesn't deserve, and I want to apologize to all of you for that. I regret if I have tarnished in any way the reputation you have built over two decades with your amazing work.
I do want you to have the facts about our education model because it does a lot of good. It's a four-year program. Students dual-enroll in an accredited BFA program at Florida State University and a diploma program at the Digital Domain Institute. In their third and fourth years they have the opportunity to intern on real projects in a real studio in exchange for college credits.
We're still in the early days. The first BFA class starts this fall. The studio on the DDI West Palm Beach campus where students will have a chance to intern will open in 2015. The internship program will also expand as other companies and studios come on board.
I understand where people's reactions are coming from. It's not the program, but my glib comment. I wish I could take that back, but I can't. I can just apologize to you for it, and assure you that I know interns can never take the place of skilled artists and production professionals. What first attracted me to Digital Domain was your work, and when I came here in 2006, I realized that it was your pride in that work and in each other that makes the place special.
I have no intention of replacing workers with students and I can talk to you more about that in person. I hope that one Joe Biden comment doesn't erase a lifetime of caring about people. I acknowledge that my ideas are different, and I can't promise you that I won't say something crazy again in the future. What I can promise is that I will keep trying to help. In early 2006 Digital Domain employed about 400 people. Today, with your help and some different ideas, Digital Domain employs 933 people in North America (669 in the US) and we're growing. I believe we're part of the solution -- not the problem.
I owe you answers to your questions. I know that the public discussion has gone beyond internships to issues of overseas expansion, investment in our existing studios and company finances. I'll be in Venice at 11:00 on Wednesday. Jody will follow up with an email letting you know where we'll all meet together. I'm not going to present anything or give you a speech, but I'll address whatever you'd like to discuss. I think I've demonstrated that in this company, it's OK to speak your mind. Please bring me your questions and let's talk.
Hope to see you Wednesday, John