It doesn't help that movie studios are leaning even more on visual effects to fix issues in postproduction. "The idea that you can continue to refine and update whatever is done in a computer means there's less of a need to commit to certain ideas and concepts," the source says. This is both a blessing and a curse for everyone involved. Being able to fix minor issues is genuinely helpful, but it also leads to designers changing the look of suits and other elements late in production. That forces VFX firms to rush out updated work, with very little fine-tuning.
It's not entirely doom and gloom, according to Lay (AKA VFXSoldier). "While I've warned about the bad conditions leading to a bad product in aggregate that hasn't really shaken out," he said in an email. "While conditions continue to be very difficult there continues to be very good VFX work being done in films and that's probably a good indication why things haven't changed... Even with these terrible conditions the professionals and facilities continue to soldier through the challenges and make a great product."
So what can be done about the systemic issues facing the visual effects world? It's a long shot, but our source suggests that plenty of issues could be solved if VFX studios unionized and worked together. That's not something Hollywood wants, since it would probably end up making visual effects work cost more and take longer.
Visual effects firms should also explore newer technology, our ILM source suggested. "A lot of companies don't have time or budget to develop their tools," they said. "It seems like we just throw people at the problems instead of figuring out better ways to work. I've been dabbling in real time [rendering] with Unity and Unreal lately and it's amazing. I think we're not far off from doing VFX film work in a real-time environment, and when that happens the whole industry is in for a little shake-up."
While Black Panther will certainly be remembered for breaking new ground, it's also a fitting example of the issues facing the VFX industry today. A movie that gets so many things right, with the backing of the biggest movie studios in the world, can still fall victim to the crushing workflow of the visual effects industry. That's not just embarrassing for the people involved -- it's a shame shared by all of Hollywood.