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Artist Rights

John Textor’s “Free Student Labor” Comments Have Staying Power

Outrage over comments by Digital Domain CEO John Textor continues to grow and has now spread across all corners of the animation community, from Motionographer to Canadian Animation Resources.

Textor’s comments, which were made last November but leaked online last week, center around Textor telling investors that 30% of Digital Domain’s workforce would be comprised of “student labor that’s actually paying us for the privilege of working on our films.” Artist Scott Benson dubbed it the Reverse Paid Internship. Today the story gained renewed momentum when the LA Times published a story about the controversy surrounding Digital Domain’s plans.

In the LA Times, Textor claims that his earlier comments were taken out of context and says, “Find me another visual effects company that is as committed to growing jobs in North America as Digital Domain. If this is taking advantage of kids, I wish somebody would have taken advantage of me when I was in school…. For $28,000 a year, you get an FSU degree and get to work at one of the leading visual effects companies in the world.”

The anonymous blogger at VFX Soldier rebutted those statements, pointing out that plenty of other vfx houses are building jobs in North America: “Sony, Rhythm & Hues, Zoic Studios, Image Engine, and many other companies have opened shop in Vancouver where there has been a huge growth in VFX jobs.” Furthermore, even with $132 million in cash, land, tax credits and financing from the state and the cities of Port St. Lucie and West Palm Beach, Digital Domain is still aggressively pushing forward on building studios in India and China. So much for North America.

Textor is clearly on the defensive, going so far as posting a comment on VFX Soldier, the site that initially broke the news about his comments. His rambling and combative commentary (“I was probably a 3D programmer before you were born.”) doesn’t address the ethical and legal issues raised by his pay-to-work idea. Instead, Textor claims that, “The VFX business model, as a pure services model, is broken,” and somehow that justifies students paying him to work at Digital Domain. Textor also states, “I cannot fix the VFX industry. I am definitely not smart enough for that.” That is something becoming increasingly clear to anybody who’s been following the story.

(Photo of Debbie and John Trextor via