As our reputation for vfx training grows, we get more and more calls from various people asking us to do complex visual effects and animation for free. After all, students don’t expect to be paid. They need experience, right? And what do they do in the evenings when they’re not reading text books or writing essays? Nothing. They’re bored. It makes total sense for them to do free VFX work while they are still in training. It’s very similar to that time you wanted a root canal for free, so you called up a dental school and asked if one of the trainees could do it “for experience”.
I don’t mean to sound bitter. I appreciate the faith all these companies and small projects must have in me and my training to trust their delicate, difficult and expensive VFX work to us. I wouldn’t begin to think that it’s because they are just trying to save a hundred grand by talking some sucker into giving them free VFX. And I am sure they are completely sincere with promises like “If you do this one for free, I may have a Big Paying Gig sometime in the future”. I’m sure they really believe that by abandoning their training to do a flying logo or a city flythrough or a derivative space battle my students’ careers will benefit enormously. It’s really quite heartwarming.
But all those good intentions aside, here’s why this isn’t the AMAZING OPPORTUNITY that you are pitching.
1. I’m working. For pay. That’s what it means to be a commercial digital artist. We trade our hard earned lifetime of skills for money. It’s not evil or greedy, it’s economics. If I don’t do this, I can’t feed my kids or buy them new shoes when they need it. Would you go to your dentist and tell them what a great practice opportunity it would be for them to do your root canal for free? Do you tell them that if they do this root canal free there may be some big paying dental gigs for them in the future? Of course you don’t. It would be ridiculous. They’d probably call the cops. So why on earth would you expect me to ply my trade for free?
2. All my grads are working. For Pay. They have put a great deal of time, effort and money into getting vfx training for industry. Now industry is trading them money for those hard won skills. That’s how it works.
3. All my students are busy. Really, really busy. And they’re not reading text books or writing essays. They are paying to be trained by experts and they understand that if they don’t make the most of their time, they won’t get a job. They work hard, long hours practicing their craft and being mentored. They need to maintain their focus in order to learn. When they’re not working hard, they need to rest so they don’t burn out during their year of intensive training. That’s how they get trained for industry. That’s how they get paying jobs. The last thing they need is a short term “opportunity” distracting them from their long term goals.
4. I don’t want to teach you that you can get such difficult, expensive work done for free. Then you’ll be like my black lab after I mistakenly gave him a little piece of bacon in the kitchen when he was a pup. Now he won’t leave me alone, ever. He just sits there staring with those big brown puppy eyes hoping for more. Staring. Wagging his tail. I can’t take it!
5. It’s not free. It costs me money. I have to pay for all the hardware, software, utilities and facility that produces that work. So what you’re really asking is for me to pay you for the privilege of doing VFX on your project. Really?
So please don’t ask anymore. I’m sorry. I know you have to get your project done somehow and I’m sure you’ll find a way. You’ve come this far and you’ll figure it out, I have little doubt. Stick to it. Maybe there is someone out there who will do it for free. But if they’re any good at their job, they are probably working already. So good luck finding pro quality work for free. You’ll need it.