If you use Facebook at all, you might have seen a lot of GREEN profile pics showing up since the Oscars aired. Someone who we shall simple call "X" to protect their identity wrote a fantastic summery of the situation for those of you who are unfamiliar with the VFX world. I thought id share that persons excellent summary below. Read & Be Educated.
For my non-visual effects wizard (muggle) friends. Here's what the green profile pics are all about....
Life of Pi won the Oscar for Visual Effects, Cinematography and Director last night. Good for all, and well deserved in each category.
However, the visual effects company and artists that created the tiger, the ocean, the ship, the skies, etc... is now in bankruptcy, unable to pay its artists' payroll and back wages. Many of them have been let go with no compensation or benefits for them or their families. This company, Rhythm & Hues, is no sweatshop either. They are/were one of the good guys... a facility created by artists for artists to do what we all love to do. It's a coin flip whether they survive.
Talented people, from artists, coordinators and programmers to the software and hardware that are required to fulfill a director like Ang Lee's vision, are not cheap and a lot of people are required. It is a complex and highly technical mix of artistry and innovation that requires years of experience. Visual effects are so necessary for complex and never-before-seen story telling that 48 of the top 50 box office films are considered visual effects films. But the visual effects community has never been on shakier ground.
The reality today is that Hollywood studios demand more, faster and cheaper for their films. They drive this "competition" through unfair bidding competing against work from countries with illegal tax subsidies and incentives. This practice has created a race to the bottom price-wise and we are reaching a point where talented people are walking away from the industry after suffering long hours, broken families, migrant worker status as they move from country to country following work as the studios chase the latest tax subsidies. We are reaching a point where companies like R&H, Cafe FX, Digital Domain cannot survive the slightest rough patch.
Comments by Ang Lee in the weeks leading up to the Oscars lamenting that "he wishes VFX could be cheaper" were a shot across the bow of the VFX community as many of the Life of Pi crew already sat home out of work. Ang Lee has not discussed how actors' salaries could be cheaper, or how director or producer's percentages could be limited. Yet it is valid to argue that visual effect played an equal if not greater role in making the movie Ang wanted to make.
Life of Pi was a perfect VFX storm. A book that people said could not be brought to the screen. You can't shoot on the ocean, you can't put a tiger in the boat with an actor. Credit Ang Lee's direction and the screenplay by David Magee. But the technical, visual execution of that film was a real achievement and the Visual effects team at Rhythm and Hues deserves the credit for that.
Now flashback to last night's Oscars... and wear a cup.
Neither Ang nor his winning cinematographer, Claudio Miranda felt they needed to thank or even mention the VFX artists who made the sky, the ocean, the ship, the island, the meerkats and oh yeah... the tiger. Ang thanked the crew, the actors, his agent, his lawyer and the entire country of Taiwan right down to the team that built the wave-pool on the soundstage where Pi was shot. But failed to mention 100's of artists who made, not only the main character of the tiger, but replaced that pool, making it look like a real ocean for 80% of his movie.
And the final salt in the wound to our community... when VFX supervisor, Bill Westenhofer (one of our own) was accepting his well-earned Oscar for Best Visual Effects, he attempted to shine a light on the bankruptcy of Rhythm and Hues and the current paradoxical state of our industry, but was promptly given the hook and had his mic cut by the same Hollywood powers that demand lower prices for the very skills that make their tent-pole movies and profits possible.
So thank you Ang Lee. Thank you for not thanking us and for letting us all know where we stand. Our industry is the only non-organized part of the movie making business. I am afraid that may need to change.
Professional Pixel Pusher, near-sighted visionary, and Halo enthusiast. ;D