Why VFX artists are protesting

26 February 2013
Why VFX artists are protesting

When Ang Lee was announced as the recipient for Best Directing and his film "Life Of Pi" as the winner of Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects in the 85th Oscars on 24 February 2013 (25 February 2013 in Malaysia and Singapore), there were many cries of outrage. Particularly 483 of them and counting. These cries of outrage were that of the VFX artists, who were angered that Rhythm & Hues Studios, who provided visual effects for the film, were forced to file for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy on 11 February 2013 due to unfair competition from subsidized and tax exempt foreign studios.

To add insult to the injury, before Bill Westenhofer, who went up to receive the award for Best Visual Effects for "Life Of Pi" could bring awareness to VFX issues, the microphone went dead and he was played off the stage with the theme from "Jaws". Further, director Ang Lee did not even thank the VFX team for their work on Richard Parker, and even said ""I would like it to be cheaper and not a tough business [for VFX vendors]."

It is no secret that it is getting harder and harder to make money in recent times, and no other industry struggles with this more than VFX. On a good year, VFX studios make 5% profit, although the movie that they work on goes on to earn make millions or over a billion dollars. According to Reddit, some of the main reasons are:

1. There are subsidies in other countries, which leads to unfair or no competition for VFX studios that don't.
2. Minor cosmetic jobs such as roto and paint fixes are being outsourced to China and India by movie studios in order to save costs.
3. In addition to low costs, movie studios pressure VFX houses to do more work, or at least lower their costs further by opening offices in subsidized locales in order to take advantage of tax breaks.
4. In addition to movie studios asking for more and cheaper work, they want VFX on a movie done in less time, resulting in VFX artists putting in more overtime, which are then not paid for as they want lower costs anyway.
5. VFX artists do not have a union, and their pay are per-contract basis, which also makes it easier for studios to blacklist a particular individual for speaking up.

Why is VFX making such a big deal, you ask? There are tons of other industries who are suffering from economic problems as well. However, how many movies can you say that is absent of any VFX effects? Without VFX, these movies will just be actors acting in front of a green screen, which explains why VFX artists and individuals who are supporting the cause have changed their profile pictures on Facebook to that of a green image.

The VFX issues are also one that hits home for Malaysia, as the country's branch of Rhythm & Hues have also contributed to Ang Lee's "Life Of Pi". The studios' next project is "The Seventh Son", which stars Ben Barnes, Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges, but following the company's filing for bankruptcy and employee layoff of over 250 without pay, it seems that all their VFX artists could not finish work on contracted projects that would last until the end of April unless they could obtain an emergency USD 17 million loan from 20th Century Fox and Universal. Meanwhile, Legendary Pictures stepped in and paid the company around USD 5 million to finish the effects work on "The Seventh Son".

Stay tuned for more Cinema Online coverage on the effects industry agenda!

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