Why It Feels Like the End of VFX?

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Interesting listen. A bit long…

Two things stand out.

The game of what’s wrong with the shot and reversal of incentives is not unique to VFX. It’s really a result of corporate culture and can be seen all kinds of creative fields. I’ve seen in to commercial stills, and website design.

On the collapse of the streaming - he comes across as blaming the consumers for cutting back spending. It’s true that consumers are more thoughtful with their spending, but they never paid for multiple streaming services all with high quality original content as all-you-can-eat buffet to start with. They were happy to consume it while Wall Street was happy to subsidize it. If it would have been priced at cost from the start with, there wouldn’t have ever been a streaming war.


I had a novel pricing scheme I came up with once. A token system. It works like this. The token system bid is say 15% less than the traditional bid we offer. The fixed bid using the token system is basically a price that buys the client a certain number of tokens. On an approved document with client, the token pricing for certain aspects of the shot is laid out clearly. More tokens for big things like animation and rigging, less tokens for small things like slight color tweaks and minor 2d comp stuff. As the process goes on, client sees number of remaining tokens in “wallet” and as we start getting to the end stages, can use those tokens as they see fit. They can buy more tokens if needed but they cost more than at the initial bidding phase. But the choice is easy to see: how important is it reeeally to change all this so late in the game and lose every one of your wishlist items for that number of tokens, vs saying “the tiger’s fine on this one shot, it doesn’t need one more whisker, let’s make these 10 other shots better.” The best part is if they don’t use all their tokens, the roll over in their account for their next project.

This would be a discounted offering for the client. Not an entire business model. The problem is though, if every other company is just willing to commit drawn out suicide for Mr Marvel… then who cares? But I think it would be an interesting model, especially for low and mid-budget projects.

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Interesting idea.

One challenge is the principle of ‘don’t make me think’ in most customer management or UI design. Simple is better, and the token system is not something they’re used to.

But there are variations of the same system you can employ:

Internally when we come up with a bid, we often don’t just say the last beauty job took 3 days, therefore any other beauty job takes 3 days. You look at the number of shots, frame count, skin quality, etc. etc. and say this job should take 5 days including 2 revisions.

So as notes come in you can say, ok, we have 8 hours left, the current notes you left would take 16 hours, how would you like to prioritize? And maybe they give you a good list, or they say, lets start at the top and then you revisit.

You can play that game at any granularity.

Of course, you then sometimes get the answer ‘they all need to be done’, and then you have to decide what to do with that. If you’re hard-nosed about cutting them off, then you also have to be willing to refund if they come in under. Or you eat the difference, and pad the next bid to make it up in the averages, which of course is stupid for the client, but hey they asked for it.

The other option is a risk sharing bid. The way that works is you estimate the job will take 5 days, but there are some unknowns. So you tell the client the job will cost a minimum of 5 days and a maximum of 8 days. If you finish the job in 3.5 days, bonus for you. If you finish anywhere between 5 and 8 days, you bill actual time spent. If it’s more than 8 days you eat the overage.

That results in a predictable budget range for the client, but you both share the risk of the unknowns within reason. Of course by the time you get close to 8 days you need to distinguish between the unforeseen (this shot just didn’t want to track) vs. the client’s endless wishlist that wasn’t in scope when you started.

That’s where a detailed description of scope, and a clause that the scope is what is in the quote, and any subsequent change must be in writing and may trigger an overage in the contract. The fine art of saying ‘no’.

It’s a delicate balance. Keep the client happy, don’t loose your shirt.

But what the video mostly alluded to is more corporate bidding. Where you have producers promise the world without care, and then beat the shit out of the team to make it happen. And that stuff starts at the top and rolls down hill.

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I think you could have a really nice ux integrated with whatever shot tracking system though too. basically input notes, VFX vendor classifies notes, ui shows remaining number of tokens, asks if you want to proceed. Throw in a kind of heat tracker that shows the client what shots are gobbling tokens and perhaps need to cool down in order to finish the project on or even under budget. Heck throw some AI in there to run some simulations that nudge the production in certain trains of thought in terms of efficiency and deadlines. Throughout this process though, there would be ample enough tokens that really until your crunch period it’s just work as normal, and then the harder decisions (though with this simplified way of thinking, I think they would be more obvious) would need to get made.

Yes, in the context of a workflow management app, that could be very cool and helpful.

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Well, off to Silicon Valley learn how to make apps and get me an open plan office with an espresso vending machine and ping pong tables! LOL! See y’all in a decade!

The more I think about it actually, that could be the ticket. Depersonalizing the relationship between producers with a mass adopted pricing software. Basically warnings and stuff that pop up saying “by unlocking this animation sequence you will be acknowledging the willingness to incur overage charges, do you wish to proceed, click yes or no.” “You have reached your maximum number of allotted creative revisions to this shot, if you would like to unlock more playground access and opportunities please click yes. Your account will not be charged until your request for creative access has been approved by the vendor upon which a receipt will be sent to the following email addresses.” I think you give it some slick AI features that genuinely help with efficiency and transparency, but spread the pain more evenly with an AI chatbot producer who’s a stickler for the contractual bits.