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Wednesday, Jun 7, 2023

Visual Effects Workers Get Support From Group

When members of the Visual Effects Society gather for their annual awards show, the toughest part of the night isn’t getting the winners to keep their acceptance speeches short but getting them into the venue to begin with. Dressed in their finest evening wear, the men and women okay, mainly men whose skills with a computer create a charging dinosaur, an alien planet or a capsizing ship will talk with each other. And talk, and talk and talk. “It happens every year the same way,” said society Executive Director Eric Roth. “Our members don’t get a chance to be with each other all that often.” Not a union or a guild, the Encino-based VES is a professional society entering its 10th year of service to the artists creating the effects, the educators training the artists, and other entertainment industry professionals giving their support. Its 1,500 members are scattered around the globe for creating visual effects is a high tech venture that need not be chained to Hollywood. An actor, director and cinematographer need to be on a movie set or television shoot. The visual effects artist can be a half world away pecking away at a computer keyboard to bring to life a planet a million miles away or a world that doesn’t even exist. It’s a role, said society board chairman Jeff Okun, which used to be filled by science fiction writers and inventors but now filled by himself and his colleagues. “We make something tangible and visible that used to be imaginative,” Okun said. “We’re implanting in the minds of the young they can create something new.” For all the attention their work receives, an inferiority complex exists about where visual effects artists rank in the entertainment industry chain. Okun said effects artists are seen as the “interlopers” taking away jobs on movie sets. Roth sees the artists as working on an uneven playing field and not receiving the credit for the work that they do. One issue of importance to the society is standardizing titles in film and television credits. Another is outsourcing of jobs overseas and educating the members on how to deal with emerging markets and make themselves valuable to those markets. What the society allows its membership to do is speak with one voice on those issues, said Roth, who was appointed executive director three years ago. Much of what the society brings its members is camaraderie; the utilizing of resources and expertise that each can give one another. “They wanted to come together to network, to be part of a brethren,” Roth said. While not a founding member, Okun has been in the society since it started. A visual effects artist for nearly 30 years, he is an independent contractor as is about 40 percent of the membership. He most recently did effects for the Warner Bros. Studios release “Blood Diamond.” As it has no collective bargaining power to get its member residuals or health benefits, what the society can do is provide the opportunity for its members to learn from each other and improve their skills through seminars and events such as the “Show and Tell” during which nominees for the VES Awards tell how they did a particular effect. Last year, the society embarked on a new training and mentoring program for college students funded through a $5,000 grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. While visual effects practitioners use state of the art equipment to create their images, the society has not turned its back on the past and those artists who came before. A traveling or permanent museum may be in the society’s future, Okun said. Craig Barron, a Northern California-based artist and society member, is engaged in rescuing mattes and models used in films. Videotaped interviews with older artists have also been done so that their knowledge is not lost. “We’re trying to build a body of information that will allow people to see that we are part of the industry and we’re not just the geeks standing on the side watching the big boys play,” Okun said.

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