Working for free


Working for free

The above sketches I did while in a meeting with a client


I recently saw this youtube video from Stephen Silver in a posting on Cartoon Brew.

Stephen is a character designer on shows like Kim Possible and Danny Phantom, and brings up a very important point that will be obvious to many, but people working in the film industry tend to overlook far too often.


We’re often asked to work on “cool” projects for the promise of future pay, or the “guarantee” that we’ll get paid, and paid well on the next one. I’d say a lot of the time, the people who say these things truly believe it. I like to believe that people are generally good, and want to help one another. However, I have also seen time and time again that these things just don’t work out.

Stephen makes many good points. Working for free devalues artists and the work we do. Our time is valuable. The sum total of years and years of experience, learning, education, late nights banging our heads against our monitors until we finally give in and accept our robotic overlords. You are a unique little snowflake and deserve to be paid like one.

I’ll take it one step further into a realm I’ve been dealing with quite a bit recently. As a visual effects artist, I’m often contacted to work on other people’s projects. The growing trend these days is the need to have groundbreaking visual effects for next to no budget. It’s a sad trend, but it’s the way of the world. In order to stand out in the sea of mass media and youtube, anything you produce needs to have a twist. Usually a visual twist involving a guy staying up late at night, toiling to polish off 12 frames of “film.” 12 Frames = half a second by the way.

I get it. How else are you going to separate yourself from the 50,000 other people with a camera and an idea? But what many people don’t understand is that these things take grueling hours to create. That staying up late polishing 12 frames? That’s not a joke. I’ve lost weeks of my life to as little as 12 frames of film. And that’s what separates me, the professional visual effects artist, from the high school student who came across a copy of After Effects and can do some cool stuff with it.

I’m like a ninja, or the Masad. If I do my job right, you’ll never even know I was there. You won’t think twice about that creature, or the fact that they shot the movie in LA on a green screen, even though it takes place in NY.

Despite what seems like me bitching, it’s not all crazy expectations. One person I worked with thought my job was really simple. He could pull green screen keys in final cut in a minute, so there’s not much more to it. When I sat down with him and spent 3 hours on a single shot, and it still wasn’t done, I could tell he had a lot more respect and understanding.

I don’t begrudge the person who doesn’t understand what I do. It’s the person who doesn’t care and thinks they can do it better when they very much can not, that gets under my skin. Respect yourself and those you employ, and the world will be a better place.

And if you have to work for free, make it something you believe in. Something of your own creation, or someone close to you.

Time to go heed my own advice…


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