There has been a flurry of discussion in the VFX industry around 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.
The blog VFX Soldier  has obtained a speech that Textor gave last November to investors in which he revealed how the company’s new animation school, Digital Domain Institute , will be integrated with the new studio. Textor told the audience:
“…what’s interesting is the relationship between the digital studio and the college. Not only is this a first in a number of ways that we’ve talked about, but 30% of the workforce at our digital studio down in Florida, is not only going to be free, with student labor, it’s going to be labor that’s actually paying us for the privilege of working on our films.
Now this was the controversial element of this and the first discussions with the Department of Education, ’cause it sounds like you’re taking advantage of the students. But we were able to persuade even the academic community, if we don’t do something to dramatically reduce costs in our industry, not only ours but many other industries in this country, then we’re going to lose these industries ... we’re going to lose these jobs. And our industry was going very quickly to India and China.”
AWN received a public reply to Textor from visual effects professional “tang1039,” that blasts the CEO for “Digital Domain’s unethical plans to turn a profit.” Read the full letter, below, and let us know what you think:
Mr. Textor, this is in response to the news that Digital Domain's new business plan is to now have up to 30% of their labor force be unpaid students.
I am a visual effects professional. I have been both an artist and a visual effects producer. I understand the economics of the visual effects industry and the extremely thin margin most visual effects studios operate on. I am empathetic to Digital Domain's situation. It has become increasingly difficult to turn a profit as costs rise and visual effects budgets are slashed.
As a visual effects producer, I cannot condone Digital Domain’s unethical plans to turn a profit. If the future of Digital Domain is students paying to work for your company, I never want to work with Digital Domain or anyone who continues to associate with Digital Domain. I will encourage every visual effects professional I meet, artist or producer, to boycott Digital Domain. And without visual effects professionals, what type of future does Digital Domain have?
Do you believe that students can create the same quality visual effects as professionals? Do you believe that our years of training, professional experience, and skill can be matched by a student? If Digital Domain follows through with this plan, then you will have to accept that untrained student work is the best you will ever get.
I will not work for you.
Those I know will not work for you.
No visual effects professional will work with you.
And do you really expect studios, directors, or producers to risk being boycotted as well for working with you?
As a lone individual, I know that I cannot damage your company. I know that I am just a cog in the multi-billion dollar entertainment industry.
Mr. Textor, when you attack all visual effects professionals’ ability to earn a living and provide for our families, you no longer have one cog to worry about, you should be worried about the entire machine crashing.
So, to every visual effects professional globally, demand what you have earned. Demand respect for your skills. Demand your experience be valued. Demand a fair wage for your skilled work. Demand to be treated like the professional you are.
And to you Mr. Textor, continue to devalue the work of visual effects professionals.
Continue to believe that you can get by on the cheap on your labor.
Continue to attack and destroy people's professions and livelihoods.
And I will make it my mission to destroy Digital Domain.
Remember Mr. Textor, the years of experience, skills, and tireless efforts of the visual effects professionals that you are trying to drive out of the business have brought your company its awards and accolades. Do you expect many will want to work with you when Digital Domain does not have any professional artists to create award winning work?
When Digital Domain closes and you move to another shop, it doesn’t matter. Whatever shop you go to Mr. Textor, we will not work with you.
Any shop you are associated with will close because of you.
You have pushed our backs up against the wall. We have nothing to lose in this battle, Mr. Textor. You've shown us your version of the future, and we professionals are not a part of it. You have a $10 million dollar investment in Digital Domain stock.
By the time we're done, it will be worthless.
Digital Domain will be remembered for their amazing work, and at one time being a studio artists wanted to work for, but every visual effects professional will remember John Textor as the man who tried to destroy the visual effects industry.
visual effects professional