Guest Commentary: The Life of an Indian Visual Effects Artist

Within the last 6 months, two of the biggest U.S. visual effects houses—Digital Domain and Rhythm & Hues—have declared bankruptcy. Among the culprits responsible for their downfall is outsourcing and offshoring of VFX work to countries like India, China and Malaysia. This goes hand in hand with other reasons like foreign government tax subsidies and credits, corporate mismanagement, and Hollywood studio economics.

But what exactly does it mean when work is sent to one of those other countries? Work isn’t sent overseas simply because it’s cheaper. The cold, hard reality is that work goes overseas because developing countries have lax labor laws that offer minimum worker rights and maximum opportunity for worker exploitation. It amounts to sweatshop labor, and in some cases, indentured servitude.

We hear a lot about the perspective of Western artists affected by the outsourcing and offshoring, but nothing from the overseas artists who are the supposed beneficiaries of the work. It turns out, they’re not exactly enjoying it either.

This commentary piece was submitted by Bhaumik Mehta, an artist who spent 7 years working in the rendering and lighting departments of many top Indian animation and effects houses. He has now left the industry to work as a freelance 3D artist for interior designers and architects, a field that he says is much less exploitative. Per Mehta’s request, I have removed the names of the studios he listed in his original piece to protect colleagues who may still be working at those places.

Commentary by Bhaumik Mehta

I read your story of recent layoffs happening at studios like DreamWorks and Rhythm & Hues. I wish to express my deep sorrow and concern for all those artists who have had to put aside their families, friends and health to finish the tasks that were assigned to them by the studios.

Many bad things happen at studios in India, too. At one studio, artists are asked to work without salary for at least four months, at which point the studio can ask them to leave if they didn’t find their performance “good” enough. At another studio, they reduced their staff in the 3D animation department from 150 people to a mere 5 people. One studio takes Rs 30,000 (approximately $550) as a deposit from artists and only returns to the artist (without interest) once they complete two years employment at the studio. [Note: An average MONTHLY salary might be Rs 7,500 ($138 month) so the deposit is equivalent to nearly 4 months salary.]

Every studio has adopted a hire-and-fire policy in which artists are asked to sign a contract of six months after which the studio has a right to either keep the artist or remove them according to the project’s requirement. One studio has laid off their most senior artists and shifted their base from Mumbai to Banglore; another studio will either delay an artist’s salary by two months or won’t pay at all; and yet another studio requires their artists to come to work on Sundays as well as on public holidays. All the while, animation institutes are taking fees like Rs 450,000 (approx. $8,300) but providing education and equipment that isn’t even worth Rs 4,500.

It would be nice to raise this issue and let everyone know the condition that Indian artists have to endure. They are sacrificing their lives for their passion, but they are exploited by people who have no interest in art and whose only motivation is earning as much as possible by spending as little as they can.

I left the industry two years ago. I am glad to have done so and have started working as a freelance 3D artist for interior designers and architects. I am not earning as much as I used to when I was in the studios, but I have no fear of someone asking me to leave their office once their project is completed. I choose to live with dignity and honor as well as giving time to my family, friends and health.

I hope that by making others aware of these issue, I can save my artist friends from further exploitation.

(Photo via Shutterstock)


  • Mark Mayerson

    For more on the situation in India, see this:

    http://vfxsoldier.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/vfx-soldiers-in-india/

  • http://animationanomaly.com/ Charles Kenny

    As flawed as it is, sometimes it really is too easy to take the American legal system for granted. Bhaumik’s commentary should serve as a reminder of that.

    • iseewhatyoudidthere

      Now if only we could fix the American economic practices that allow large-scale exploitation like this at the expense of the unemployed in America and the exploited, underappreciated workers abroad.

      • jonhanson

        People like cheap shit, don’t care so much about the cost, especially when this rush to the bottom ensures their dollar gets them less and they have no choice. It’s a cycle that the people with money will probably be riding all the way to the bank as long as I live.

  • Jason

    Thanks for putting this up Amid. It’s rather disgusting what studios are doing to decent people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/william.bradford.102 William Bradford

    Good for him! Only by talented people leaving the industry until conditions improve will the business people concede.

  • http://twitter.com/tylerart Brent Tyler

    While I don’t disagree that many overseas worker environments are not up to US standards, I don’t believe that R&H and DD are outsourcing because other countries have “maximum opportunity for worker exploitation”. They outsource because it’s cheaper.

    • Aaron H

      Brent – it’s the same thing. It’s cheaper for them, and if they’re turning a blind eye to the exploitation, well, that’s their choice I guess. But for them to claim to be totally ignorant of the treatment of workers overseas would be absurd.

    • MaskedManAICN

      But it’s the exploitation (in part) that’s making it cheaper.

      • Jason

        ‘The Invisible Hand’ argument is enough for people to accept without understanding it’s actual implications.

      • http://twitter.com/tylerart Brent Tyler

        Not necessarily. An average 2-3 bedroom home in Burbank, CA is $400,000. In India, it’s a 10th that. You don’t pay as much because the cost of living is less. Same reason people leave CA to go to Texas.

        • Jodie

          This is why worker exploitation needs to be talked about because this is how it’s justified. You’re comparing Indian and American standards of living as if you were comparing generic cereal to name brand cereal. Both are exactly the same in quality, one is just overpriced. Same product regardless of what you pay. California may be overpriced compared to Texas for the same standard of living. Texas is not India. The US is not overpriced compared to India. You get so much more for your wage in the US than in India. Everyone already knows that overseas workers are underpaid. There’s a million articles on that. Amid is one of the few people reporting about the exploitation that’s a key part of oversea low wages. He even found an Indian brave willing to give his name and talk about this unfair practice from personal experience. Bhaumik doesn’t even work in animation anymore so he didn’t even have to do it. He and Amid are just trying to help others. We should be appreciative and thankful of that.

        • http://twitter.com/bonehag bonehag

          Brent you cant do a comparison.If you plan on buying a house in Mumbai where a lot of the fx houses are, the average house will cost you exactly that. $400,000.

    • Jodie

      What’s the difference? It’s not like they outsource because it’s slightly cheaper than in the US. They do it because it’s much cheaper to the point of exploitation. If people can be paid that little, chances are the country probably doesn’t have the best of labor laws. The two go hand and hand. It’s often cheaper to ship work to Canada than keep work here in the US. That’s a totally different situation than Indians are dealing with. So I’d rather people like Amid point out the “maximum opportunity for worker exploitation” aspect than point out that it’s just cheaper in India. I don’t know if someone who’s being paid less is being exploited. I do know that if someone’s exploited, 99 percent of the time, they are not being paid well. So I think Amid is right to point out this so often overlooked issue.

    • Jason

      Why is it cheaper then in your opinion?

    • jonhanson

      Do you not see how these sort of underhanded business practices cut down on price? Business don’t treat employees like shit because they’re evil, it’s because it’s good for the bottom line.

  • Finding it hard to feel bad…

    No offense…..But, Cry me a River Indian VFX workers… You’re taking Jobs away from US VFX animators…..So I’m really finding it hard to be sympathetic.

    • http://www.facebook.com/geoff.vv Geoff. W.

      They are only taking the jobs made available to them. They need to support their families just as much. He’s your animating brother, not your enemy.
      If you want to balance blame for lack of jobs in the US, look at the employer who’s going there.

    • OtherDan

      “It’s the Circle of Life”. Who do you empathize more with-another struggling artist, or the ones who cut the deals that affect us all? Beyond the studio heads, what about the Wall Street elites who create the downward pressure to outsource that the business executives carry out? I think your disdain is misdirected.

    • Axolotl

      Why don’t you go apply at this guy’s company? They have an opening.

    • http://twitter.com/SarahJesness SarahJesness

      If those jobs come back to the US, they’re being taken away from those animators in India. LOL C WUT I DID THERE

    • http://twitter.com/spitandspite Abel Salazar

      Entitled much?

    • lukey

      @ F.I.H.T.F.B. – …. you didn’t really think that one through did you?

      It’s ridiculously ignorant to blame the Indian animators.

    • offended

      This being one of the more “jingoist” and blatantly uninformed comments on this thread I can’t help but point out that if you lived in a country like India where extreme poverty, corruption, and inequality are rife, jobs in the technology industry are much more appealing than a lot of other professions.

      These are people who are constantly trying to better their situations in tough circumstances and I don’t blame them at all for taking up work like this by predatory VFX companies. If the position even suggests a chance that they can make a better life for themselves and their loved ones, they’d be hard pressed to refuse.

      That’s right sir…how DARE they be offered work and take it! I’m sure if you were in the same situation you’d do the same.

    • Bhaumik

      It’s not about Indians snatching jobs from US , It’s just about the exploitation of artists by their respective studios in India .

    • http://twitter.com/bonehag bonehag

      You assesment couldn’t be more skewed.I came to the US from India to work in VFX, worked as a senior artist for 8 years and at one studio I got my job taken away from me by an American who was cheaper to work with.So I am finding it very hard to understand your logic.

    • http://shounak10.blogspot.com/ Shounak Patwardhan

      An Indian taking a job and an American giving a job are two different things. You got the two mixed.

  • Toonio

    You know what, There is no one else to blame but ourselves for the states of things (In the industry and in general I mean).

    Because of fear or what ever we have accepted all that is deeply wrong as right and that is insanely wrong!

    If you are one of the many that thinks that by braking your back for others accepting no reward in exchange. All I have to tell you is your seriously stupid or plain insane.

    And if you are part of the other many that thinks you are going to climb the ladder by working for the proverbial “peanuts”. All I have to say you better check yourself into an asylum or join AA as soon as you can because you will turn up badly.

    Really people if you are not going to get paid in 4 month. What are you doing turning your up your billable deliverables today?

    And from a country that ranks 94 on the transparency index (valid or not, real or not) Don’t you think the studios weren’t going to take advantage of it? C’mon tell me you are not trolling me?

    In conclusion boys and girls, the answer to this mayhem of a pickle is: In a professional fashion WALK OUT! Let them haver their bottle and go and get your dignity back. And when the governments cannot get any taxes from you they’ll take action. No sooner not later.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Holmen/562023961 Robert Holmén

    India is an actual democracy with real elections and some level of accountability by the government to the public. Ultimately the people (of India) need to assert their will upon their government by electing officials who will work to undo the wrongs. I ain’t saying that will be easy but it’s probably easier than armed revolution.

    • Aryan Ghosh

      The ‘educated’ Indian makes up less than 20% of the population, and usually doesn’t bother voting. It’s usually rural, backward people who vote the politicians into power here. It’s sad, but that’s why we’ve had an inefficient, corrupt government for that majority of our stint as an independent country.

    • Numair Abbas

      It may take decades for Americans to realize that ‘true democracy’ does not work exactly the same way for the rest of the world as it does for them

      • Noneya Biznazz

        Democracy doesn’t work great for us either, in case you weren’t paying attention. Stupid people do vote, and there are way too many of them.

  • jorgete59

    Is reaally sad the situation in both countries. The economc situation in US mke the studios take measures like that and the explotation in India and China are a shame. Maybe i been little gloomy but i see a little dark the world of the animation artist today

  • greg manwaring

    with the size of the major studios budgets (usually well over $100 million) you would think they could afford to keep the work in-house.

  • BC

    While traveling in India several years ago, I was surprised by the posters I saw everywhere that invited students to study CGI – even in tiny, impoverished villages in rural areas. This commentary sheds some real light on the new “Gold Rush” – as before, it seems most beneficial to those who sell the shovels.

  • IamSam

    Should have left the name of the studios doing this. If a jerk is a jerk let it be known who the jerk is and what they are doing.

    • Bhaumik

      Hey Sam , I wish I could name them but they could have taken legal action on me as I don’t have any hard proofs to nail them . It could have been considered as mere speculations , I hope someone from media takes notice of this and expose these studios big time .

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Holmen/562023961 Robert Holmén

    Question… Would I be incorrect in presuming that these nightmare Indian VFX studios are primarily the creature of Bollywood studios (which produce many more movies than Hollywood every year)?

    It’s hard to imagine that the relatively few American concerns could ever outsource enough work to busy the teeming masses of Indian VFX workers that are suggested in accounts like this.

    And it seems unlikely that a satellite studio of say, Dreamworks, is run as described here. Or is it?

    • Animatress

      Sometimes Indian businessmen were the ones who are doing business for the artists or local studios.They were the ones who decides what to pay for their artists.Those nasty business men get rich of half paying the artists not the Big studios who put up a satellite.Some artists doesn’t know how to sell themselves with dignity.Some are stupid enough to offer work for almost free just to get in to that studios and those evil businessmen take that opportunity!

    • Bhaumik

      No , Situation in studios like Rhythm and Hues or Dreamworks in India is different bcoz of their pipeline . Studios which are given a project to be completed on their own in India for either a foreign client or an Indian client are the ones who exploits their artists .

  • A concerned Indian animator

    Wow! Look what outsourcing has done to us! I mean it’s pathetic that 10 years since our animation ‘boom’, outsourcing is still the most dominant way of running a studio in India. I mean a decade ago it was fine. We were still learning. But isn’t it time to move on now? Isn’t it more exciting to create our own films? I’ve said this to death, but we have no dearth of super talented artists in India. We have great directors, great stories, so what’s stopping us?

    By doing outsourcing work, we’re not just taking away the jobs of those in the West, but also doing ourselves a disservice. And what I long feared is what’s slowly starting to happen now. Other Asian countries are starting to offer cheaper rates, so we’re slowly beginning to lose work. This exact thing happened to the BPO industry too.

    This could result in the closure of many big studios in India (a lot of which has already happened, and still happening).   The way I see it. The only way out is to encourage local content. It would not only be exciting to work on our own stories, but also help us survive in the long run. It’ll be really difficult in the beginning yes. In fact a lot of local films haven’t done exceptionally well yet, but we just gotta persevere and hope. We need to make sacrifices and struggle so we save our industry.  

    Secondly, we need to educate students the RIGHT way. Sadly animation schools in India are only becoming money minting machines. “Show them dreams, take money from them” seems to be their motto. We need to stop this as well. Creating better awareness about this field right from their childhood could be a good start!  

    It’s a long road of struggle yes, but I know if we just keep holding on, we’ll make it one day!  

    Let’s work hard to make a kick ass desi content and be remembered forever…

  • Mageshwaran

    I have quit my job as well ..,. Working for Japanese company is even more worse than anyother firm .,.. “. exploited by people who have no interest in art ”
    I respect this bro..
    They pay us shit make us to work for 12 – 24 hours a day. Continue next day without rest… What are we machines or animals ? Even there is rule for office PC to be shutdown for some hours so the machine can cool down.
    Stupid managers of animation company who never even worked in any CG projects before shit labour us like they know everything.
    Stupid animation institutes ads that animation means earning money and joins students like a pigs stay. Because of this real artist like us are not respected…

  • Ayan

    A Big Hand for Bahumik Mehta!!! Thanks for exposing the truthful picture. An animation job in India is really an ” Illusion Of Life” where most of the time the people dont even realise that they are nothing better than those ‘Roman slaves’. And the most disgusting and ridiculous scenario is the Animation Education goof up part where the certificate, degree level courses are illogically expensive and the students either buy these degrees( because academically they dont stand anywhere) or they are fooled with pure hypocrisy and pretention. This is a criminal offence as these courses are destroying careers, inhibiting the country’s growth and the practitioner’s should be put behind bars.

  • B

    Let’s start posting the names of the studios who do this, so we can all be aware of the practices they’re doing. Openly share the info so we know their crimes and can make an informed decision when deciding to not work for them. They blacklist us, let’s blacklist them.

    It’s not fair to have an anonymized list of crimes but not the name of the criminal. Remember, they collude with each other to keep our salaries down. ILM and Pixar were caught red-handed.

    The corporations will not stop until everyone on earth (except the CEOs) are living like the most downtrodden Indian worker. Because then we’ll finally be cheap enough for them.

    • Bhaumik

      I’d love to do that sir , Problem is many studios have very nice paperwork done while recruiting an artist . That contract has most of the clauses covered in case someone tries to sue that studio for their unethical practices . They may be ethically wrong but they are legally right . All this can be exposed only if there is a union or artists or an independent body looking after interests of the artists and who can provide legal assistance to any artist in courts .

    • http://shounak10.blogspot.com/ Shounak Patwardhan

      I personally know the names of quite a few of those houses. Especially the 30k deposit that Bhaumik is talking about. It is a pretty renowned studio. I was quite surprised. There is a facebook page which actually exposes these studios. I applaud the efforts of all these guys to show the dark reality of this industry.

  • lulu

    i’m from one of the asian country that these big studio outsourced their work (not india). so far this company gave me decent salary (slightly more than enough for me to survive in my own country) and the increment every year is outstanding.. even my friends that worked on local studio got jealous of me.. and i’ve been giving a lot of experience that i could never dream of, which is to work in world class art with world class artist around the globe and i’m very thankful for that

    the thing is, we cant compare what US been offered to their citizen with what asian culute has to offer.. its cheaper because of the currency exchange.. for example western artist got their salary of 2k USD every mth and malaysian salary got 2k MYR every mth. bear in mind that 2k USD = 6.3k MYR means u can hire 2 more artist to match up with 1 western artist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/grafxbox GrafxBox Stef

    its not only in the FX.. all industries are on those conditions since 20/30 years…

  • ToonLady

    Industries leave the US to avoid Unions! Unions are here to protect workers. Get together and create unions everywhere. Stop the inane pay gap between those at the top of the greed pyramid and the rest of us.

    • z-k

      Which is interesting; I found the same unrealistic schedules and unpaid OT going on in at a union dominated major tv animation studio as I did working at smaller non-union joint.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gerard.navarro Gerard Anthony O. Navarro

    Two of my friends are artists in the philippines. And they died because of over work from all those “bottomless” deadlines.
    They got sick from over fatigue which caused their immune systems to be non existent when pneumonia struck. I support you in your cause. I hope that someday things will change for everyone in the industry of vfx across the globe.

  • Bhaumik

    Thank you so much for all your support , It would be my pleasure to share the work I’ve been doing after leaving the animation industry . I hope you all like it …

    http://bhaumik12.wix.com/archimax-studio

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=543528926 Rodrigo Cardoso Tramonte

    The very same thing also happens in Brazil and the rest of South and Central America =(

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rahul-Joshi/639185028 Rahul Joshi

    you know what your problem is?? it is not exploitation .. it is lack of education/knowledge. this is exactly what happens when a complete industry is is full of (sorry to say) illiterates! every 10th pass guy looks at the industry as a way of making 50K a month without going for higher studies .. there is a lack of knowledge with regards to ‘know how’ as well as ‘rights and duties’ pertaining to a job, hence easily exploited.

  • http://www.facebook.com/doongars Doongar Singh

    Mr. Mehta, thank for this Commentary. few people like you give what is real life in industry but after this what we do like new people who enter in this line. becoz i think very center ask us this line is very nice, you get job as fast as you complete your course form our center …. etc. after personally i read this i m very very confuse i m joining this line or not. can u or any one give me & more like me new boy what is life in VFX in industry??????????????????

  • Guy

    As long as people accept slave wages and these type of conditions for the “favor” of having a job this will continue around the world. You can’t compete with a slave based economy nor should you try.

  • Will

    Good GRIEF,

    I had no idea it had become this bad.. I have been doing 3d since 1997 … Using Max since version 1.1.

    Currently on Max 2014 with Vray.

    If you look at online working companies such as O-Desk / Elance etc…

    Example of a job posted the other day – The Client [in U.S] was only willing to pay $11 – to build a WW2 character / texture it / rig it and animate it..
    ARE YOU KIDDING!!!

    I have notice that the amount for a lot of 3d work has almost been cut to 10% since I first joined Elance. It is horrific… I actually had an interview in my home town, Cape Town, South Africa – And I sat across from the 3d Office Manager Head, who did not even really understand what I was talking about when talking about 3d art. I was SO shocked that this guy was in-charge of the 3d department and hardly knew anything about 3d art?!

    I have also heard that another 3d company in SA – Also works a bit like a sweat shop… Paying 3d artists not much at all….

    3d Training in S.A = $4000++

    1x Copy of 3d Studio Max 2014 = $4000
    1x PC to use it = $2000++
    1x Vray = $1500
    Etc Etc

    NOT a cheap industry to be in…

    Jeepers – I LOVE 3d art… It is so exciting to create anything that you can imagine and breath life into it… It is an amazing ART form!!

    I am SICK of being exploited and not paid fairly for me time.

    ALL OF US IN THIS INDUSTRY HAVE TO STAND UP AND SAY ENOUGH!

  • Jerry M

    I read that and the two things that stuck out to me are 1) no one is forced to take the job/sign the contract and 2) the guy complaining was free to leave (after the contract he willingly signed was up) for a better job. So whats the problem ?

    • Bhaumik

      The guy complaining happens to be me . The problem here is they’ve given assurances of great future in their studios and hired them in 2005-2006 . Set aside contract , People were offered three times the salary if they switched their studios and joined them . Come 2008 , all hell breaks loose and the same employees are laid off for their lack of performance without any notice , not even of ONE day . And that’s what the problem is !

  • Rick Sander

    Still waiting for an oscar nomination for VFX done primarily in China or India.

  • Stereopixol

    Artist always have to go through the HARD path …… Artists Need to form a company themselves.

  • Harish CG

    Mr Mehta. I agree with u. The issue which you have raised is a very serious matter. I was an artist n lead too in mumbai. But due to these conditions i had no choice but to leave. Creativity is jus a word in such places n exploitation is the their main moto