Women Are ‘Invisible’ in Visual Effects Field, Study Finds

·3-min read

There are more films than ever before with amazing visual effects work, but a new study titled Invisible in Visual Effects finds that women’s credits in that area have remained flat over the past few years.

The study from Dr. Stacy L. Smith, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and Women in Animation looked at 400 top-grossing films from 2016 to 2019, finding that women received 21.6% of VFX credits — a ratio of 3.6 men to every one woman working in VFX. The percentage varied little over the period, with 20.8% of credits awarded to women in 2016 and 22.6% of credits in 2019.

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The low percentage of women in the field means they haven’t been represented in the effects awards landscape either — only one woman has won the Oscar for visual effects. More women have won at the Visual Effects Society Awards, though the total is still only 9.3% of winners.

The study proposes several ways to increase women’s participation in visual effects, including paying higher salaries to VFX producers, where women often get their start, and making that position eligible for Motion Picture Academy membership and awards.

“The lack of women in the visual effects industry is part of a larger pattern of exclusion across the film industry,” said Dr. Smith. “VFX companies and studios have to think critically about their hiring and promotion practices as well as the cultures they create internally if they want to see more women and in particular women of color ascending to leadership roles.”

Women holding leadership roles in the field was also assessed, with women holding 16.2% of all senior positions over the four year period. Women comprised only 2.9% of VFX supervisors but 46.7% of VFX producers. Fewer than one-quarter of VFX editors were women, and among other leadership roles, fewer than 10% were held by women: animation supervisors (3.7%), lighting supervisors (2%), compositing supervisors (7.4%) and CG/3D supervisors (3.5%).

. - Credit: Courtesy USC Annenberg
. - Credit: Courtesy USC Annenberg

Courtesy USC Annenberg

Women of color were represented infrequently across the field overall. WOC filled 2.5% of leadership roles, and less than 1% of VFX supervisor positions. The leadership jobs most frequently held by women of color were VFX producers (5.8% of all roles) or VFX editors (5.1% of all roles).

Looking at the pipeline positions that lead to supervisory roles, the study found that while women fill between 13.9% and 21.5% of pipeline jobs, the figures then dip to only 10% of leadership positions. “There are clear leaks and cracks in the pipeline for women across the ecosystem of the VFX industry,” said Dr. Smith.

When it comes to the leadership of 60 top VFX companies, slightly more than one-quarter (26.9%) of executives at these companies were women, and 5.5% were women of color.

“As the data from this landmark study shows, there are clearly obstacles in place for women in the realm of visual effects. We hope that this fact-based awareness will open more doors and repair broken rungs on the leadership ladder to create a more diverse and inclusive environment in this sector of the entertainment industry,” said WIA President Marge Dean.

The analysis found that major factors contributing to the low numbers for women in the essential field of visual effects include entrenched industry hiring practices, a workplace culture that doesn’t meet women’s needs around work and family balance or encourage their participation, lack of role models and leadership perceptions that favor masculine traits for supervisory roles.

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