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Visual Effects Salaries vs Education Cost?

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Hi All,

 

I noticed an ad for the Lost Boys school of visual effects and after reading the price of tuition got incredibly depressed. 60 days after enrolling you have to come up with ~20,000 dollars. That's just half of it. So it is 41,000 dollars total. I assume that is for one year. They claim a 98% placement rate which could make it worth the risk. That would mean I would have to mortgage my house to go to school.

 

The recent Sony Hack revealed visual effects salaries and a plot by ILM and Pixar to not cross-hire away talent from one another effectively enforcing wage fixing (while actors, producer and director continue to make millions).

post-12295-0-77213700-1454177182_thumb.j

 

I am wondering if anyone who is currently employed in visual effects can verify these numbers. I am not asking for individual salaries but are they in the ball park of what is listed in the image? Or is this just some conspiracy theory that has yet to be verified?

 

As an entry level animator I can expect to make less than a web developer while mortgaging my home and moving to a new city which also is an expense.

 

Why couldn't I be happy being a developer? :(

 

I just love working on visual effects solutions.

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I'd never pay that much to study. For that amount you could sit at home learning by yourself for a long time, get an internship somewhere and get into the industry that way. $41k is crazy. I dont know how the industry looks like over in america but yeah, if thats the norm I feel sorry for you guys.

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Hey Atom,

 

Even though Lost Boys School is a pretty decent school (some of my colleagues went there, and A.Lowell is a great teacher) that sounds like a crazy tuition, and I agree with David that you could much more easily learn things on your own nowadays, especially with the knowledge you already have.

 

I'd much rather buy an online CG workshop more than going back to school, unless you are trying to get a Master degree to teach at a college level, or something like that.

 

About wages, here in Canada people can make approximately between 50k to 150k a year, with exceptions for sups and dependent and companies and cities.

 

In London you can ask for a bit more but you don't get paid OT (like many cities in Europe) and life cost is extremely expensive.

 

In big companies I believe the people who make big figures are developers, RnDs, and once again Sups.

 

If you want to know something more specific feel free to PM me.

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skill should be the determinant, although as a freelancer, you have to know how much you can push bids.
a mistake newcomers do is to not care about the pay for starting job( for experience and exposure ). which is whats killing the pay for the majority.

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Connections have been good to have the direct email and personal recommendations, but I've gotten replies from just applying through website also. Just get a dope reel imo

Edited by alksndr

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They claim a 98% placement rate which could make it worth the risk.

Those placement rate numbers do not mean anything...

Someone out of school who had just been hired as a freelancer on a 2 months project is effectively counted as "placed" but it doesn't mean this person will still be employed in 3 months time.

Edited by iamyog

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I'd say those salaries are reasonably accurate...

$41,000 per year is insane

I took a one year course (2d/3d) and it was $15,000, and that was in 2000...and it was overpriced.

there are only two things that these types of courses offer that are of any real value

1 - the chance to work with other people - the reality of VFX/Animation is that you are always getting something from someone else and passing your work on to another person. Learning how to work on a collaborative environment is VERY important - it doesn't matter how good you are - if you can't work with other people and can't learn how to deliver assets etc that others can use in a real pipeline then you will not survive.

2 - contacts. I got a little freelance gig right out of school but I got my first real job because I was visiting some former classmates at a studio and started chatting with the owner. And got my next job from someone I met here on od[force] ;)

 

and it might be wise to investigate Vancouver before making any decisions - it's one of the most expensive places to live in the world - and it pisses rain 24/7 

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Thanks for all the feedback.

 

I have looked into Vancouver and moving to Canada. As an American over 40 with only a high school diploma I am of little value to the Canadian Government, considered kind of a dead beat because I have no colledge edgimication. They require a $250,000 deposit just to move to the country. Unless I get sponsored by a company who has already tried to fill the position with native talent.

 

The thing is with Nafta in place I could come to Canada with my guitar and sing in a bar and legally make money. But I can't come to a studio sit a chair and work a computer and make money.

 

Bellingham or Blaine Washinton are right on the border and it the closest I can get to Vancouver and still remain in the US. It is a possible west coast target but I would still need to acquire relationships with studios in Vancouver and try to see if I could work remote...

 

I guess I am just thinking out loud with this thread.

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Guest tar

Looking back to 1997 and my 3d scholarship seems great value these days.

 

I'm not sure what the studios are like in Canada but being over 40 it may push your body to the limit working the long hours that a lot of places around the world 'ask' you to work.  Especially as a junior too.

Edited by tar

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Hey Atom,

 

Probably with your programming, vfx, mograph experience you'd be more than able to get sponsored by a VFX studio in Vancouver. Have you tried?

 

I don't know if they age matters too much when it comes to hiring but I know that Vancouver has abundant work at the moment.

 

@Michael Goldfarb

Yes, it does rain in Vancouver (especially in the winter) but at least is not extremely cold like Toronto or Montreal :P

 

Plus Vancouver is beautiful :D

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Since you are an American, you are allowed to work in the US  - do not underestimate this advantage.

Get good at Houdini first through whatever way you can (highly recommend online video tutorials, the forums, your own projects, khanacademy on mathematics for computer graphics, books,...) - Don't pay $20k, instead spend the money on buying a good ~$2k desktop computer, consider searching here on the forums 'top houdini tutorials' - go with people's recommendations. There are several facilities near LA in California as well as game studios that require houdini artists. The reel is what matters. Consider doing the Sidefx internship - doesn't matter that you are a bit older, that could be your advantage as you bring life experience from different areas.
Reach out to Sidefx and ask them if they know of studios in your area or in neighboring states that are looking for houdini artists.

 

I just had a meeting with Sidefx and we are trying to restart the Houdini User Group in Los Angeles. Being part of a houdini community can be very helpful, both for solving artistic/technical problems as well as for getting (freelance) gigs. Network here on Odforce and on Linkedin and start creating short 100 frame videos showing of a variety of effects and rnd. You will get traction and interest. Each project should have the goal of saving at least one shot for your demoreel and get it to a finished and elegant stage.

Link with all the people in this thread and look at their profiles, their skillsets, their demoreels.

Location in the US does matter as there is more Houdini related work in California than in other states, but their are smaller advertising companies in cities all over the US that are doing work for local areas. They can not outsource to Vancouver as the turnaround is too quick. This might be a way in for you - as Houdini works quite well for fast prototyping and turnarounds and "is its own pipeline" to a degree. Also doing commercials you would get a lot of variety fairly quickly. It is a fast paced environment, but can be quite fun too. You could even consider buying your own indie license and really go the freelancer route.

All the best on your journey!

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Hey Atom,

I'm in a similar position - over 40, live in the States, Houdini, VFX is a second career.

I went to Vancouver last week and talked to some studios about working there as a Houdini / Nuke artist. They were all positive about hiring from the U.S. As someone here said, if they sponsor you, you will be in under NAFTA. I highly recommend going to anything, anywhere (Vancouver, L.A., etc.) and meeting people, showing your reel to them in person if you can. MPC has a recruiting meet-up in March, there's a VFX reel night in April in Portland, there's always something coming up in NYC, etc etc.

Get out there and good luck!  

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Hi Atom,

Being in the industry for the past 20+ years I can say that those figures are accurate. And I would definitely NOT pay that much tuition, it's not worth it. The only down side of learning alone is that your inner voice will always tell you that this is hard, just don't listen to it and keep on working, you'll get there ;)

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Hi all! I've been alerted to this thread and suggested that I weigh in .. I've read the comments and everyone brings up great points, so it's not my intention to get in the middle of a vfx industry wage / tuition / rate war; but I'll try to be as unbiased and realistic as possible here. As some know I'm the sole Houdini / FX instructor at Lost Boys. I designed the curriculum about three years ago and it's taken off. I'm self taught personally, so I fully agree that it's possible to learn everything on your own and do well at less cost. I do believe the number Lost Boys asks is a fair amount and below is my reasoning. I'm welcome to debate and disagreement and if need be lets come up with some alternatives that work for the majority of people out there.

 

1. Self taught vs. school.

Even though I did quite well being self taught .. my demo reel was all over the place. I didn't know what areas to focus on, my own strengths/weaknesses, industry norms and techniques, or have a set routine. I didn't have a strong mentor. I had to maintain all of my own hardware, and I had no support from peers. In my FX program the student has a completely immersive and supportive environment to learn in. We have highly regimented projects. We have dailies; personalised lectures, and the pupil is told how to hone shots for maximum effectiveness. The hours are FULL TIME .. from 10am-5:30pm every day. Not a night class twice a week .. it's like studying a foreign language in it's own country. I firmly believe that a year of immersive study in a supportive and structured environment like this saves lots of time. It pushes a student's skills farther than they realistically could on their own. In general our demographic is about half students, and half up-skilling professionals. They will generally up thier level in a year; and this could take years on the job or at home .. meaning; Student to Junior .. Junior to Mid ... Mid to Senior.

You'll notice a consistency in the projects from our FX Demo and the industry has responded very well to them.

2. Cost of tuition.

a. $41 is a lot of money. However, check out our competitors .. I'd assert that our tuition is below average. If you look at the instruction hours, it's reasonable. This is simply the cost of doing business and staying competitive. My classes are only 7 students maximum with one group overlap; and they have myself, and my assistant full time for a full year. If a student is successfully placed as a Junior they both have a profitable career after only a year, and if frugal can probably make back the tuition soon. I know that my university education was far more, and I had way less job potential at the end of it. Took me years to justify the cost of it. Going to a low end tech school might have us pay almost as much money, waste time, and then have zero useful skills at the end of it. $41 Gives our students an incredible year, a job at the end if they work hard, and full time instruction providing a strong technical and artistic base for their rest of their career.

b. What is the real value of school? It's true that there's now an almost unlimited set of resources available to learn the software. I don't teach the software. I take my students camping to study fire and water. We break stuff to study fractures. I teach low level vector and matrix math, and often give physical or drawn examples of how these principals work. We work on group projects in tandem with plates and the compositing students to develop real studio skills. I have one on one conversations with my students as they struggle, ask questions, try to understand advanced artistic and shotwork concepts. I teach problem solving, and develop their eyes .. Houdini is great; but it's a tool to get there .. not a means in and of itself. The students will develop their own styles that will let them be seniors someday learning it the traditional way (from Senior to Junior) on real projects .. a case by case basis, just like at a studio. I firmly believe I give my students a better education than I've ever had; My education was from seniors at the studios I worked with and it was in a stressful environment, under the gun, production .. not a supportive school. I would have gotten farther faster if I'd have gone to a school like this for it.

c. Honesty is crucial here guys. I'll admit that I make decent money teaching the program. Not as much as I'd be making if I would have chosen to stay in the industry as a senior FX artist or lead. But, close .. and this is a lifestyle choice I've made to better myself artistically. Many schools would choose to put profit into marketing and phony ads. Our two person ownership team (yes, only two people) put it into getting the best instructors, the best equipment and facilities, and the coolest projects. We shoot our own plates, we do many outdoor activities to further our learning, and we often have industry lectures as well. Our marketing is our alumni and testimonials.

3. Placement.

This is generally a scam at many schools. At my program it isn't. Anyone who would disagree should do their homework and reach out to the full listing of alumni on this page. My alumni will probably say as they have told me that they were satisfied with their investment, and are successfully working on the job. So far out of my students I've had one that was not placed as an FX TD. The other 22 students were placed .. not as runners, two month gigs, or render wranglers .. but as FX TD's more often than not working on major movies with Houdini. Here's the facts:

(63%) Juniors

(14%) Mids

(4%) Seniors

(4%) Placed in an equivalent job, then career change

(4%) Unplaced

To add to this, once placed they have generally progressed quicker than most people in no small part due to their solid foundations in the art and science of FX work.

 

Thanks for reading, that was my completely biased opinion and I'd welcome discussion .. ok gotta get back and teach :)

 

 

 

 

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Guest tar

@andrewlowell Your course sounds well though out, and, is similar to immersive coached training vs a big-box unsupervised gym. No comparison, and well worth it for those whom can understand that value.

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Jeez... I wish I could make that numbers... haha

My case:
 

I did a Multimedia and Communication undergraduate (4 years, 5.000€ year) = 20.000€
After that, I enrolled Escape Studios London 18 week program, paying the amount of (about) 18.000€

Nowadays, after 1 year of VFX experiencie, I am working as junior 3d artist here (Maya, Unity and Houdini), in Barcelona, getting clean 1.000€ (after taxes) per month ( 18.000€ / year contract ).

Good luck guys! 

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Another thing to note also from my experience and others I have worked with is, after school, you are almost guaranteed to start as a junior which will take some time to climb the ladder, whereas you are a lot more likely to start as a mid, or senior even with no prior film experience, if you are a highly motivated self-taught td.

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