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From CATS to Sonic, recently we’ve seen a rising trend of patching in VFX films – as in, having a major haul-over or updates to the VFX elements in movies. Obvious examples include would be Paramount Pictures Sonic (2020) which received a backlash when the initial design of Sonic first came to trailers. Another film is Cats (2019) which received tweaking even after its release in theaters.

So we were curious: what would a VFX Artist think of this? Especially when the first things people tend to fault and point to seems to be VFX Artist/ Animators?

VFX Artist Kevin Pinga

For this, we decided to enlist the help of a VFX artist, Kevin Pinga. Kevin currently resides in Los Angeles and has worked on various media with credits from commercials and music videos for major Grammy award-winning artists such as Taylor Swift, Shawn Mendes, and Billie Eilish to features including Marvel Studio’ billion-dollar grossing blockbuster hit Spider-Man: Far From Home. Kevin has worked with various VFX studios such as Luma Pictures, Ingenuity Studios, and SideFX, all of which have worked in prestigious films that exhibit excellence and recognition in visual effects. His works have been featured in leading VFX publications and media including Art of VFX, Chaos Group, Renderosity, MTV, Newsweek, and TV Insider.

As Kevin has not worked on both CATS and SONIC, we decided he might be a good candidate to give us a neutral taste test as someone who isn’t attached to any of these projects personally.

Stills from Kevin’s collaboration projects with music artists including Billie Eilish and Eminem; move still from “Spiderman: Far From Home.”

Let’s start with the burning question…what is your opinion on Cats? In regards to the big hoo-ha of people making fun of the VFX work, especially at the Oscars as a joke slamming the CGI?

Kevin: “To be honest, I don’t think the visual effects in Cats were that bad. In fact, I commend every VFX artist that worked on it to get it to such a level in such a short period of time. I think we all know that at this point, we do have the technology and capabilities to create whatever is needed in the film. In fact, the same studio that did the breathtaking VFX for The Lion King, MPC, created the VFX for Cats!”

Cats (2019) Universal Pictures.

“I think the problem with Cats started when some group of people sat down in a room together and agreed to, “Yes, let’s make Cats a live-action feature film!”. Just because you have the technology, that does not mean that a film or a project is going to be successful. There are so many other aspects that determine how well a film does and it’s not limited to just the story, acting, production value and visual effects.”

“The statement by VES in response to the Oscars ‘Cats’ gag speaks for itself:
“The best visual effects in the world will not compensate for a story told badly,” the VES said.”

“In my humble opinion, I think if you really wanted to bring Cats as a musical into the current mainstream media format, it would have probably been best to make it an animated feature film.”

And what about Sonic? I’d like to hear your thoughts on its design change process, and its impact on the production’s scheduling and crunch time.

Kevin: “Some people sat down together in a screening room, saw the initial 3D concept of the character, and approved it! I think it’s amazing how the public views made a huge impact on this issue. I think it’s even more amazing that a studio would actually agree to make such a last-minute change. “

“As someone works in visual effects for TV, last-minute changes and short deadlines with extreme crunches is something that is very common. But to see this on such a large scale in a feature film is quite unusual. From my personal experience working in TV, a last-minute design change will absolutely trickle down to the artist. We’re no longer talking about just the long hours or how underpaid an artist is, but also the mental health and stability of the artist itself.”

“I’ve seen so many junior artists give in to this just to “prove” themselves and they end up getting burnt out more quickly than ever.”

Sonic (2020) Paramount Pictures. Comparing between the look on the first trailer (on the left) and the revised version (on the right).

It seems like while VFX carries the weight of visuals for a lot of movies, especially in the sci fi, hero, and fantasy genre and make up a huge bulk of work of helping to make or break a movie, VFX artists and studios seem to not be getting as much recognition or sustainable pay as they deserve. Any personal thoughts on this?

Kevin: I think visual effects companies need to learn how to negotiate with a client without having to underbid. Unfortunately, too many studios are underbidding to ensure all their seats are filled in the studio. On top of this, studios are offering such low rates to junior artists who are just hungry to get their first job into the industry.

Honestly, I don’t think this situation is going to improve soon. But my advice to young artists, especially those who are currently in their first jobs is to be more aware of rates and what other people are being paid. This can be a very sensitive subject to talk about, which is why I always recommend establishing a good relationship first with your coworkers. When you understand rates and what your value really is as an artist, it will give you a much clearer idea of whether you should stay at a studio or not. I don’t recommend staying at a studio just for the opportunity to work on “cool” projects but get paid very poorly.

If it’s your first job and you’re underpaid/overworked, I usually recommend moving to a different studio within three months. This will be enough experience on your resume and portfolio to start negotiating better rates with studios. If there is any chance of making this industry change, it starts with the artists not feeding to studios that run practices like this.

We would like to thank Kevin for his opinion on the matter. In our next article, Kevin continues as our special guest to give his 2-cents and tips to those that aspire to be in the VFX industry and gives us a little background on how he broke into this industry and continues to work to stay relevant.

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