VAM Summit: State of freelancers in the VFX service sector

The virtual VFX and More (VAM) Summit organised by Animation Xpress India, witnessed an insightful panel “The VFX Service Engine: The Mainstay” where the speakers have discussed the Indian VFX service sector, challenges, trends, and expectation, and so on. The speakers of the panel were PhantomFX founder, CEO & VFX supervisor Bejoy Arputharaj, Rotomaker founder and CEO Madhav ‘Mike’ Yatham, Digicore Studios CEO Yogesh Anand, Bot VFX co-founder, and director Sreyans Bardia, Labyrinth Cinematic Solutions CEO and co-founder Sidhartha Jaykar, Deluxe Entertainment head of production-VFX/ Animation/Stereo Franklin Mascarenhas, Technicolor Film and Episodic VFX Mumbai Unit, Trace VFX head of studio R.K Chand with our session partner – Work Deer vice president – sales and marketing Aishwarya VNS and the session was moderated by AnimationXpress founder, chairman, and editor-in-chief,  Anil Wanvari.

Starting off the panel Aishwarya VNS  shared that Workdeer is a  collaborative online workspace for clients and freelancers in the Gaming, Animation, and VFX terrains. WorkDeer unites clients and freelancers under the same roof. While clients gain access to creative talent for swift project execution, freelancers get to bid for a large choice of remunerative projects. Apart from that she shares, “ WorkDeer also provide cloud services that help the studios and the freelancers to stay connected and get their job done remotely.”

During the pandemic lot of people lost their jobs due to cost-cutting and that is when the freelancing trend evolve people from around the country started showing interest in working remotely due to unprecedented situations and many studies started hiring freelancers. Also before the pandemic,  many studios hire freelancers on a contractual basis when the work requirements rise up, and to fulfill the temporary requirements they keep freelancers or independent artists as options. However, while taking this step as a choice the studios often face challenges Bardia expressed India is the service industry majority of the works come from international projects, and where security is also the main aspect because of which it becomes difficult to show faith in freelancers. Apart from that, according to Arputharaj, “Hiring freelancers is a good concept but one of the biggest challenges that we have faced is the responsibility level is less and it becomes very difficult to work with them.”

 Mascarenhas expressed that in India skilled talents are more tend to do full-time employment compared to abroad as they aim to collect timely month on monthly payment. Also, the freelancers in the industry are not sure that whether they will get work or not going forward and this uncertainty made them stick to full-time options.  

Chand expressed that “Skillset and right mix skills can derisk the company and derisk the artist at a grassroots level and it is the only way to spur growth”  The concept of freelance is that as an artist they get to choose a project to project and studios to studios, therefore, they will have diverse experience and this also benefits the studios to hire new talents with a diverse skillset which might help them in easing workflow.

Current challenges 
Jaykar has highlighted one of the key concerns of the industry which is the lack of talent pool and why is that? He explained in India, there are underdeveloped not good professional institutes in the particular field of VFX.  Therefore, the students are under-educated and it takes a longer time to get the ideas out from them, not only that the exposure and practical experiences of the individuals are less and on the other side industry is constantly shifting with new technology, therefore, it becomes difficult for them to level up.

Adding to that Anand expressed that opportunities are coming in but as far as the domestic market is concerned the producer needs to understand there is a cost attached to quality content. “Even today they have the mindset to keep 5 per cent of the budget for post-production. In India the exposures of the Indian talents are not up to the mark we do have good talents in India but they are not getting the opportunity,” Anand added.

Way forward

Franklin Mascarenhas expressed that going forward the future for India in the VFX and Animation industry is bright. “A lot of artists who are trying to learn new skills, they should also focus on upscaling the skill set so that when the doors open for the opportunity they should be ready to pick up those work including the entire VFX fraternity. There will be a lot of work, the destination is almost double the monetary value for particularly in next four years.” Adding to that Chand  also believes to be future-ready “The spread of talent needs to be honed for better growth prospect of the industry.” Bardia also added, “In terms of skillset in certain areas, India is the master. The ecosystem is evolving now but very slow and thus various international companies are finding opportunities in India” Yatham shared that today might be due to the Covid situation there are fewer projects and companies are depending on freelancers and temporary hires. However, once the vaccines will start rolling, the project load will skyrocket and companies will start hiring full time.