The Cinematography Podcast Episode 265: Scott Ross

As a pioneer in digital visual effects, Scott Ross was instrumental in the advancement of VFX in Hollywood. He led groundbreaking work at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) and co-founded Digital Domain with James Cameron and Stan Winston. Scott looks back on his career, discusses systemic problems within the VFX industry, and possible ways to fix them.

Scott began his career in sound recording for television and film in the San Francisco Bay Area for a video production company, becoming president of the San Francisco office. The success of Star Wars ignited a space race for studios, and ILM became the holy grail for VFX artists. “I get a phone call from a headhunter who says, ‘Hey, Lucasfilm is looking for somebody to head up production operations at Industrial Light and Magic.’ And my head exploded,” says Scott. “If you’re going to live in San Francisco, you want to work at Lucasfilm. That’s how I got hired.” At the time, ILM was creating visual effects for Who Framed Roger Rabbit. His experience in the nascent digital video industry sped up the process, and by 1989, ILM developed a technique to work in a digital medium for making special effects. While Scott was at ILM, the company won five Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects.

However, ILM’s creative spirit began to wane under corporate pressure. “It turned into cubicles and whatnot,” says Ross, favoring a “work hard, play hard” environment. This philosophy fueled his decision to leave and co-found Digital Domain in 1993. “When I started Digital Domain, we’re going to play hard, work hard and party hard. And that’s the culture that I wanted to create. I think generally we did a pretty good job of it.” Digital Domain became a leading VFX company, creating visual effects for films such as Cameron’s Titanic.

The VFX industry is notoriously troubled, with visual effects houses underbidding on projects to stay competitive and creating dismal working conditions for employees. “There are certain companies that the only way that they could stay alive is by taking advantage of their employees, not paying them overtime, not having health care,” says Scott. “That really comes as a result of the way the clients, studios and the directors deal with the visual effects companies.” He blames a producer mentality that prioritizes squeezing VFX houses rather than fostering a sustainable industry. “The visual effects industry workers need advocates for themselves. Currently, they have no one fighting for them. They need an international trade association that changes the business model.” Today, effects workers continue to voice their need to form a union. The rise of AI further complicates the picture, with some fearing job replacement.

Find Scott Ross: Instagram: @scott_ross

Close Focus: The death of Rico Priem, a grip who died in a car accident after working a 14 hour shift on the set of 9-1-1.

Immaculate director Michael Mohan responded to criticism of his film looking too dark on streaming services. Compression on streaming services often causes dark movies to look darker, and there’s no one unifying standard for optimizing VOD viewing across platforms.

Scarlett Johansson’s fight with OpenAI over the sound alike voice of their new AI “Sky.”

Ben’s short end: Lynch/Oz on Kanopy, a documentary about David Lynch‘s references to The Wizard of Oz in his movies.

Illya’s short end: The Sony FX6 camera has a new firmware update that unlocks a feature for the 1.5 times anamorphic de-squeeze inside the camera. You can purchase a Sony FX6 at Hot Rod Cameras.

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Podcast Credits:

Producer: Alana Kode

All web and social media content written by Alana Kode

Host and editor in Chief:  Illya Friedman

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Host: Ben Rock

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Editor: Ben Katz

Composer: Kays Al-Atrakchi

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