2 Cents: Pixomondo Stuttgart

Update: Pixomondo’s business practices and reputation have changed immensely since I wrote this article. I’ve gladly and happily returned to the studio numerous times since, and there are no money issues anymore. The team is still great, I like working with the supervisors and there are still good projects coming in, although at a bit of a smaller pace and in smaller doses than they used to. All is probably not roses, but the main gripe I used to have – not getting paid for my work – has been a non-issue for quite some time now. So don’t let this ol’ blog put you off. :-)

Pixomondo is the one vfx house in the world that I never wanted to work for because of their bad reputation. Everyone I ever met who had worked for them reported of ridiculously bad payment morale and sometimes really unacceptable behavior on the part of some of the branch managers.

I was approached by the Stuttgart branch last summer and they were very upfront about that reputation and the rumours. Yes, they said, it takes 6-8 weeks for invoices to be paid, that’s a sad fact, but they can’t really do anything about it because most of their money comes from L.A. I thought about it and decided that I wanted to give it a chance – it’s the one international vfx house in my home town, after all, so never even looking at it from the inside seemed somewhat unresonable.

The Stuttgart branch was a 1-floor open space office (they have recently expanded to another floor), with a few smaller offices for producers, supervisors, IT and HR. There were about 50-60 artists working there when I started on Oblivion. The project was relatively stressful right from the get-go, with a series of rather tight trailer deliveries and the final deadline not long after the last of those. I started in September ’12, and the first weekend days were scheduled in October if I remember correctly. So, long hours, extra days, quite an amount of pressure. I have to say, though, that the atmosphere was always friendly and familiar, people cracked jokes at each other even in the most stressful situations. The producer and coordinators did their best to distribute the workload evenly, which worked great and helped keeping us content. The supervisors didn’t always have the same opinion on which direction a shot should take, but in the end, their struggling probably made for the best possible result in every shot. The leads were great, as well. All in all, there is an exceptional mass of talent thrown together in that office. I really want to stress just how much I liked working together with that team. Both artistically and personally, I feel very happy to have been a part of it.

The rates are about average. Freelancers are paid by the hour, which is nice for a change. Employees get their extra hours added up to extra holidays, which is also great. Dinner was always on the house when we stayed past 8pm (which was practically always), and really the biggest downer during my six months at the company was when the coffee machine went kaputt and there was no replacement for one or two weeks.

So that was the work and atmosphere side of things, from which I would gladly go back there any time. If it weren’t for the money…

My first invoice was paid ‘promptly’ after 8 weeks, and I thought, well, they told me it would take this long, everything’s fine. But then, they started not paying. A few freelancers didn’t show up any more, others set to rendering watermarks into their shots. The pressure worked, L.A. sent over some money. It went on and off like that. In March, I got a final payment (for an invoice I’d sent in January), then the cashflow just stopped. In Stuttgart, nobody got any information, in the end they told us to please get in touch with the accounts persons in Frankfurt directly. Who, however, wouldn’t answer the phone, wouldn’t reply to e-mails. Reminders were ignored. I’ve recently hired a lawyer who is now taking matters to court. This is unacceptable conduct for a company of this size and fame, and shouldn’t have to be tolerated by anyone.

Let me say this very clearly: if you go and work for Pixomondo as a freelancer, you’ll have to be able to afford it. Because you will have to fight for every penny they owe you, long after the project is finished and you’ve moved on. That sucks big time, even more because I enjoyed working there so much.