An existential takeaway from the 2023 writers’ strike is this: 

A certainty in life is uncertainty.  

People lose jobs, fall out of love, and panda bears sometimes crawl out on unstable branches and fall out of trees. As thousands of WGA members seek certainty for their futures in contract negotiations, a consequence of this instability is space. 

When one thing stops, routine is in turmoil. We have the opportunity to experience great trepidation but are also driven into reflection. What do I do now? What do I want to do? The pause provokes an internal necessity – find a new avenue to create, even if you aren’t getting paid. Do something that feels good. Continue to grow. 

The writers on the picket lines aren’t inanimate vending machines for quippy late-night dialogue. They are podcasters, Youtubers, painters, potters, and musicians. They are humans with multi-faceted interests. By extension, the industry colleagues that stand in solidarity with the writers – AKA the VFX and animation artists reading this – have the same need and opportunity to channel a paused influx of studio work into personal creation.

How does an Unreal Fellowship course fit in with the 2023 writers’ strike?

One of these expressive avenues currently open to artists on a slowdown is the 2023 Unreal Fellowship in animation – a tangible example that the industry can ally with their writer brethren while continuing to pursue creative growth.  

From Unreal Engine

Unreal Fellowship: Animation is a three-week, virtual course that examines the principles of animation and the technical foundations of constructing keyframe and/or motion capture data within Unreal Engine. Upon completion of the course, participants will understand the core fundamentals of real-time animation along with a variety of Unreal Engine tools in service of creating an animated performance.

The fellowship will also guide participants through niche tools in the Unreal Engine like Sequencer, Live Link, Movie Render Queue, and Take Recorder. The Unreal Fellowship series began in July 2020 with the intent of helping industry professionals build their hands-on knowledge in real-time production. According to the original structure, participants are provided with $10,000 of financial assistance to complete the three-week course. 

The upcoming Unreal Fellowship: Animation will take place from August 28th to September 15th in the U.S. and from October 23rd to November 10th in Europe. Demonstrating that this is a truly intensive three-week course, classes run each day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. for the fellowship duration. Applications for the Unreal Fellowship are due June 9th.      

How is the 2023 writers’ strike affecting the perspectives of VFX artists?

The ripple effect of the writers’ strike is that artists and crew feel the tremor of uncertainty – right down to the person who caters bagels and coffee to set. The fortunate outlook is that it’s not eternal chaos. The DGA begins contract talks in June and that will leverage further pressure on studio heads.  SAG announced on Monday, May 22nd that they’ve forwarded a strike authorization vote to its members. For context on the weight of a strike authorization vote, SAG hasn’t done this since 1986.

As for the artist watching everything from a monitor at home, the opinions range from observative to “this is an earthquake inside of a tornado trapped in my living room.” A May 8th Reddit thread titled “Writers Strike: Is the VFX industry headed for a shake up?” included heavily upvoted commentary like:

xCrashReboot: The strike will most likely end early July with a looming DGA strike. If Directors strike then everything is shutdown and studios cant absorb that. The last DGA strike lasted 4 hours, thats how valuable Directors are to everything. No shooting, no approved edits, audio, vfx. That means VFX will have shot turnovers again in the late fall/early winter.

brigstan: Yes, it’s the perfect storm of post covid, and the writers strike. Streamers are cutting back on crappy contact. Like all the stuff released during covid. Add in the strike, and projects are being canceled and/or postponed. It could be a tough few months. If a contract isn’t signed in the next week or 2. Then, the fall broadcasting will also be effected. Seems like more layoff could happen mid to late summer

The speculation bounces back and forth in a giant internet town square. Somewhere from a quaint golden-lit cottage down the street, there’s an animator or composer in little Geppeto suspenders watching the frenzy from afar, and they stand from their rocking chair to say: 

“I’m gonna go back to the shop and see what I can make today.”

The opportunity in uncertainty: A chance to reflect and create

The Unreal Fellowship is one example. Another artist’s version of utilizing a space of reflective uncertainty might be to wander out into a forest and hollow a dugout canoe from a burned-out pine tree. The baseline is that these windows, however tumultuous for friends and colleagues, provide little morsels of time to open up that absurd weird lurking idea and make it tangible. 

A common question during the writers’ strike is, “How are people being allies to the writers on strike?” It’s a compassionate and necessary question to ask. Away from the speculation and the buzz, there is the quiet solitude of reflection. And another question arises: 

“When everything breaks down, what can I create?”