The opportunity to work on large feature films in Los Angeles has become much more rare - tax incentives (dare I say kickbacks?) from competing states have lured that work away. Some of the work on those films does remain here. Producing and development, script writing, etc. still mostly happens here. For the art department its the pre-production phase for those films. Developing the look of the film, generating some illustrations, set plans, and models, to sell producers and investors on the idea that this film is a good idea and will make money, and so then - green light the project. The main production talent typically involved with these films still resides in Los Angeles, though some have decided to pick up and move to places like New Orleans, or Atlanta, where the work is booming. Those of us who remain in LA get plenty of calls for work out of state, but are more than excited to jump onto something when its in town - for however long that might be.
I am involved in pre-production on a large feature right now - a sequel to one I'd done before. I can't tell you how happy we all are to be working in town, reunited with our peers from the last film, at a real movie studio lot, and we can also go home to our families at night. Bliss. We know that the film will be made out of the country, but when offered the chance to at least work in our home town for up to 5 months we'll take it. Its when production announces that, instead, the move to the distant location will happen earlier in order to save money - we feel even more robbed of our livelihood, and that we are waving goodbye to our careers. Hollywood has never been a stable place to work - ever - but its now reached new proportions. In the old days - and not all that long ago - you were called to work on a film, and were given the when, where, and how long of it all. It was spelled-out, and you could take it, or pass on it, and plan accordingly. Now they tell you about the project (maybe - if its not too much of a secret!), and that yes, its probably going to be filmed elsewhere, but they don't know where yet - or when you'd leave, but you'll probably be there for 6-8-10 months - if you're asked to go at all. I personally, am steering away from signing on to anything that's still so vague - or extended. But the story can change so quickly, its really not much protection. I know many people who have started on a film, been told they'd be on for a number of months, only to have it go away as soon as the same week they started! Its nuts!
I have 2.5 weeks left on my project, and am already starting to hand-over files, concepts, and models to my counterparts up north. I had such fun on the last one. To see it leave the country is just heartbreaking. If the film had stayed in the US, I'd be traveling with it, but its not - its going up to Canada - and there's too many unemployed Canadian art directors who are more than willing to have my job. So I'll be unemployed instead. (Though hopefully not for too long). Another great American tale leaving the country to be made. Another job - cut short.