(Source: vfxwages.com) Many complain that outsourcing companies in Asia cut jobs in the West and many fear that low wages in the East endanger jobs in the West. No doubt there is a trend towards outsourcing since economic downturns force many producers to look for cheaper options abroad.

I just want to shed some light on the environment domestic artists are forced to work and live in and how they think about us.

Here are some facts:

* A junior to mid-level artist earns between 3000 to 4000 RMB (~440 to 730 USD) per month. Senior to supervising level reach 8000 to 10000 RMB (~1172 to 1465 USD). Roto/Paint Artists and Modeler sometimes even work for 1000 RMB (~146 USD) per job/model/per month
* There are no benefits (health, social, unemployment, retirement, pension) whatsoever. Bonuses are rare, many times promised but rarely paid.
* There are no regulations on working hours or overtime payment (Many work 7 days/week) meaning there are no unions nor any regulations nor guilds thus zero protection nor any law enforcement which protects them.
* They can fired without notice nor can get paid if the boss is not satisfied with their performance or work. There are official holidays but unpaid of course, the same is true if someone has to take sick leave.
* They are asked to do everything from matchmoving, rotoscoping/clean-ups, modeling, texturing, animating, compositing, etc.

* A job interview seldom includes a showreel or a professional presentation of any kind. Most guys who run these sweat shops are either rich kids but mostly real estate guys who think that CG/VFX/Animation is an easy business to make fast bucks. Telling the boss that they know AE, Fusion, Shake, PFTrack, Boujou, Matchmover, Nuke, Flame, Realflow, 3DPaint, Mudbox, ZBrush, Dee Paint, Photoshop, Maya, 3Dmax, XSI, Houdini etc. usually gets them a job.
* This means that all these kids have these application on their laptops, for free of course meaning you can download them from many Chinese servers including all plug-ins you possibly can imagine. Sure the government tries to implement copyright protection in China, but when I can buy cracked DVDs I wonder why there are so many police officers and government officials that can buy DVDs and copies of the latest Windows application as well. (edited ed.)

* PC’s are dirt cheap and for every IT nerd the paradise in China is Zhongguancun (Chinese Silicon Valley), which is probably the biggest PC and consumer market of electronic products in the world with billions of revenue every year. Taiwan is in close proximity therefore electronic appliances vast and very cheap.
* To open a company costs basically nothing, 5000 RMB (~732 USD), for a license including a tax registration. BUT there is a huge subculture of homegrown businesses basically operating from rented apartments in a residential area. Many of them work on very successful ad campaigns with cracked Flames/Smokes and a fully blown post facility, with a stacked up server in the air-conditioned toilet.
* Talent pool is huge however there is no quality awareness nor any existing standards. The ones who can speak English try to go abroad without knowing how a company is managed nor how a real pipeline works. (edited ed.)  Traditional art skills (concept art, oil/ink painting, mattepainting) is really good and has a long history in China. On the animation and compositing side of things, the lack of experience and the shabby education are the biggest obstacles to becoming a professional in a western sense.
* The companies who are doing outsourcing jobs are mostly run by Chinese who had the money to study or work abroad and have gotten used to the western style. So when coming back,  there is so much money and additional resources, many of us can only dream about. Just to give an example, CCTV’s (China Central Television) revenue is nation-wide and one can easily assume that money is not a problem for the people who have the right connections (meaning having the right ‘guanxi’). So to start an animation business..The revenue available is, 270,000,000,000 (270 billion) RMB (~39,543,057,598 USD). In general can we say that the richest government in the world is owned by the communist part with access to several trillion USD in foreign currency reserves. (edited ed.)

Now to my reality:

Currently i work as a VFX Supervisor on 50 episodes of a TV adaptation of one of the 4 most famous novels in Chinese history. Maybe you have heard about (Monkey King, Chinese: Xi You Ji). The budget is 100m RMB (~14.6m USD) with an overall VFX budget of 15m RMB (~2.2m USD). YES!! I am not joking, the average vfx cost per episode is 300,000 RMB (~44,000 USD) including everything VFX can do from complex wire and rig removal to clean-up work to CG creatures, mattepainting and compositing. Average shot count is 200 per episode. The timeframe until completion of all 50 episodes is 8 months! This is  with roughly 300 artists. The plans for the future from some really crazy real-estate guys is to build animation/vfx factories (factories, not studios or companies, comment ed.) with 7000 employees.

I work now non-stop for 4 to 5 months without a single day of rest and 15 hours on-set, of course it is winter and no heating system nor air-suction system exists. We shot for one month above 3000m (close to Tibet) in snow, drizzle, rain, ice with two HDCams and a crew of 15 production guys and 30 stunt/wire members. Lunch is outside, wake up call was 5:30. Stunt and wire crew (all Kungfu kids from famous Hunan martial art schools close to the Shaolin temple, some even grew up there as Kungfu monks because their parents couldn’t afford their education or simple had not enough money to raise them) are without doubt the best of the best and the toughest guys I have ever met but at the same time warm hearted and extremely polite. No matter how long you drag them, they work their ass off to please their master (’sufu’) or climb up (of course unsecured) on the roof supporting beams of the studio ceiling to fix their wires. One of our directors is a ex-stunt guy and he commnds them with a voice like a drill sergeant of a marine corp. No arguing or complaining, they obey like they have learned to as a Kungfu student.

The studio I am working barely fullfills any safety standard. Like I mentioned no air suction system, especially critial when they paint spray a newly built set besides our huge bluescreen cyc (cyc:large fabric wall, pronounced sike ed.) or when they burn diesel instead of vegetable oil for their set torches. Besides that the whole floor is covered by fine powdered sand to act a set flooring. It has already killed my on-set keying previz machine once and my assistance spit blood after 3 months of being constantly on-set. BUT the efficency is high, no bullshit, no coffee break, no safety harnesses, no union regulations, sets are built around the clock, laborers are plenty and cost basically nothing, a carpenter earns 40 RMB (~5.85 USD) per hour, some work for half or a third or that. Quality of construction is good, even though breathing in such a set is not recommended at all as the paint highly poisonous. I wear during my supervisor time a half gas mask from 3M which makes the communication with the director a little bit difficult but also lets me feel a little bit like Darth Vader :-)

So in conclusion, my explanation of why producers are pulling out their secret outsourcing weapon and are looking into Asia (China); it is cheap and fast and many things can be accomplished or even tried out which would be impossible in the West for obvious reasons like insane TNT explosions, quantity over quality, and cheap labor
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