Receiving applause, Will Cohen, co-founder and exec producer at U.K.-based visual effects house Milk, asserted Thursday that "it's up to us to further the roles of women in the VFX industry. We owe it to ourselves to make a difference."
Speaking on a panel about midsize VFX companies Thursday at the VFX confab FMX in Stuttgart, Germany, he added: "We notice more women coming in on the entry level, which I'm pleased to say. But not a lot of women are in senior roles of either side of the camera." (Milk, incidentally, represents a notable exception; the studio was co-founded by Sara Bennett, who became only the second woman to win an Oscar in VFX in 2016 for Milk's contributions to Ex Machina.)
Kevin Baillie, co-founder and VFX supervisor of Atomic Fiction (The Walk), agreed with Cohen, emphasizing the importance of education. "To support women in the industry - there has to be a lot of women in the industry - education plays a big role."
Sitting in size and scope between VFX giants and small boutiques, midsize facilities are - in the words of Image Engine (Logan) exec producer and general manager Shawn Walsh - doing "kick-ass work and, if done well, are more powerful than a boutique while maintaining a nimbleness to change with the times."
Representatives from five such facilities discussed their businesses during the session. That included Cohen of Milk, which maintains two U.K. sites and roughly 150 employees, and Christoph Malessa of Pixomondo, with roughly 450 people in seven cities worldwide. (Malessa is COO and exec producer at the company's Stuttgart facility.)
"It's very competitive," Cohen said of the state of the VFX business. "The first thing you need is work, and if you are lucky enough to choose [your project], weigh artistic merit and technical challenges."
A couple admitted they have turned down jobs because they didn't have the manpower or the time in the schedule - sometimes a blessing in the end. "You try your best, and we say no to projects that may cause us a great deal of pain," said Jordan Soles, vp development and technology at RodeoFX (Arrival). "As a midsize facility, everything you produce has to be something you could put on a reel. If it looks like shit, it's not good for the company."
Turning to technological infrastructure, Soles pointed out that midsize companies are often working on jobs with other facilities and "passing [assets] on giant sequences. So we try to stay as vanilla as much as possible - stick to industry standards and avoid proprietary tools as much as possible."
He added: "We are more about building the glue. We want the artists to be as efficient as possible."