VFX Company Rhythm & Hues Protested Last Night's Oscar Ceremony
Ang Lee's Life of Pi won Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Visual Effects during last night's Oscars ceremony, but that last prize leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of many who worked on the film. You might assume those who work on a film that wins an Oscar would be excited about it taking home the gold, but that's not the case for over 400 current and ex-employees of visual effects company Rhythm & Hues, which filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and fired over 250 employees last week. Deadline reports that many of those workers gathered and staged a large protest near the 85th Academy Awards ceremony last night.
Following the company's filing for bankruptcy and laying off hundreds of employees without pay, the effects house hoped to receive an emergency $17 million loan from 20th Century Fox and Universal so all their VFX artists could finish work on contracted projects that would last until the end of April. Legendary Pictures stepped in and paid the company around $5 million to finish the effects work on Seventh Son, the upcoming fantasy film set for release on October 18th, 2013. But things are still looking shaky for the VFX house.
The protest took place at the corner of Hollywood & Vine last night, only a few blocks away from the red carpet pre-shows near the Dolby Theatre. Reportedly even those who stuck around to work on Seventh Son haven't received a paycheck in weeks, and many are distressed about Hollywood's practice of hiring foreign companies instead of local ones to complete effects on blockbusters. Unionization is another big issue for VFX artists, but an undertaking like that is difficult to organize in a community with this many members.
When VFX supervisor Bill Westenhofer accepted the award for Life of Pi last night, he was ominously played off the stage by the Jaws score and abruptly cut off just as he was beginning to tell the audience about the current situation. "Sadly, Rhythm & Hues is suffering severe financial difficulties right now, and I urge you all to remember…" and that was all he could say before his microphone was turned off. I'm not implying there was a conspiracy to cut his speech short in order to silence him, but it was just bad timing and it sucks he couldn't use that platform - with a billion people watching around the world - to at least illuminate the issue for everyone. At least we can shed some light on it. A few photos via this Flickr set:
It sounds like Rhythm & Hues is still in trouble at the moment, and our hearts go out to all of those who have been put out on the street without pay. That's a terrible thing regardless of circumstances, and we wish them the best moving forward. Hopefully things can get worked out in the courts, the studios might be able to keep them afloat for a little while longer, and most importantly, that these workers find new employment soon. In the meantime, the protest is gaining extra support from VFX industry members all over the nation, and various support/solidarity movements have started online, if you're interested in joining the cause.
You can find out more information on the protests by heading to the Facebook page for VFX Solidarity International, which aims to "[Unite] VFX Professionals and the Digital Artist community worldwide for sound international business standards and practices." They're also running @vfxsolidarity with the hash tag #vfxprotest, and we expect them to be pushing this effects industry agenda until a resolution is reached.
Update: For anyone looking for the exact details behind what they're arguing for, there's a great post on Reddit explaining the situation. "VFX studios are having a very difficult time making profit on movies they work on, even if that movies goes on to make millions or over a billion dollars. VFX studios make 5% profit on a GOOD year, but most of the time breaking even or even losing money on a job. This in turn has a very negative effect on vfx workers working at those companies." They lay out the specific issues causing tension between VFX studios and movie studios and all the workers, just waiting for a paycheck after doing work.
Reader Feedback - 39 Comments
Ben you have become my new hero! Thank you for taking this up and posting about it. So many artists, some that go on to direct their own films are being affected by lack of cash flow and this isn't just the hollywood studios to blame. The vfx studios need to stop taking on work with no profit margins. I really hope something changes because at the moment many artists are working too long and on salaries that don't reflect what they are working on and how much money that product is making.
vfxAnonyomous on Feb 25, 2013
Exactly... signing on for "too good to be true" projects simply to beat out a competing house. The VFX studios are running themselves into the ground with the increasingly competitive market.
Joe on Feb 26, 2013
Yeah, that was ridiculous that the Oscars had an 18 minute opening monologue last night and then couldn't give an award winner another 30 seconds to highlight this important issue. Almost every top-grossing movie of the last 5-10 years has had extensive visual effects or animation work. That these VFX companies and their talented artists aren't getting enough money to operate (despite the studios making massive profits off these films) is just sad. This is a real issue, and we should all care because the quality of VFX work in films will possibly suffer for it.
John on Feb 25, 2013
Just look at the Jack the Giant Slayer VFX...disaster 😀
David Darida on Feb 25, 2013
Great podcast on the subject http://www.kcrw.com/etc/programs/tb/tb130225vfx_industry_in_trou
Brandon V. Fletcher on Feb 25, 2013
Just send the work to India, cause that always works. Sort of a shame.
Carpola on Feb 25, 2013
That happened to 'Free Jimmy' - the backers pulled the money from the production, bust the UK company, sent the work to be rendered in India. Next thing, there's Indian lighters asking questions on FX forums on how to do the bespoke Renderman stuff set up by the people out of jobs in the UK. Movie got sent all over the place, eventually finished in Canada.
skint on Feb 26, 2013
hmm... i'm not seeing a lot of "craft" being shown in those picket signs (i.e. illustration/lettering/creativity) which is too bad because that's another missed opportunity to sell your professionalism and win favor with the [general] public. one would think VFX artists could fashion protest signs that resonate well with passersby.
picking nits on Feb 25, 2013
That's print, not television. We don't do print.
Bob Wilson on Feb 25, 2013
They are called 'Artists' the very word suggests a basic understanding of form, color and structure. Most of these signs look like they were created by 2nd graders.
lattimore on Feb 25, 2013
The protest was sadly a last minute thing so just to get people to turn up was a triumph. These guys are spent, the last thing they want to do is pay for 'nice' looking signs. Its not a CV or Portfolio. What is being said is more important.
vfxanonyomous on Feb 26, 2013
Plus they probably didn't have a lot of time to make some cool looking signs. Probably a few hours or days at the most. And I'd be more concerned about finding a new job, than making a pretty sign.
kim on Feb 26, 2013
Hey, smartass, that green board with the crosses on? Check out Youtube in a week or two's time. But anyway, what a stupid thing to say. It looks like a protest, by real people. If it was slick it would just perpetrate the myth of the 'animate button'.
skint on Feb 26, 2013
For Graphic Artists their protests signs suck!
lattimore on Feb 25, 2013
Even if they made clever, highly detail signs, some asshole would comment on the time they spent making them.
Joe's Daily on Feb 26, 2013
I'll be the first to admit that those signs look pretty hasty, but bear in mind that being an artist in this setting does not necessarily guarantee a background in graphic design or traditional drawing skills. Many of these artists performed highly technical tasks relating to cloth/hair simulation, lighting, rendering, compositing, programming, and a multitude of other disciplines which would have required that they devote a great deal of study to those specific skills in order to perform their tasks at a competitive and professional level. Without their technical artistry contributions, the performances created by more traditionally 'artistic' animators would fall quite short of beautiful. This entire situation is about each layer of artistry supporting and acknowledging the other for all that they do, which proves especially important when filmmakers begin regarding special effects as an automatic process that happens if you throw money at it.
Matt on Feb 26, 2013
'Graphic Artists?' What do you thing this job's like? It's endless learning and re-learning, it's understanding cameras and light and time and how things move; how to listen to a director and change what you've done a hundred times and then know where you put all the little parts of the first idea they had when they ask for it... it's understanding turbulence, hairdressing, tailoring, animal muscles, fire... it's inhuman patience and the eye to spot a speck of dust flick on and off the screen and remove it... it's looking at a chart that looks like a bundle of cooked spaghetti that represents all the joints on a virtual character and knowing what to do with it... and to make all that and still be an artist and care about what that light quality or five-frame pause *means* AND do this as part of a team... and you think this is just some 'graphic design' job?
skint on Feb 26, 2013
You ignorant halfwit! I didn't call them graphic designers, I called them graphic artist's. So in the true sense of the term they are Artists that work in a graphic medium. Hence the term CGI 'Computer Graphic Image' I was only commenting on their skills to represent themselves in a more professional manner and there fore be taken more seriously. These signs look like teenagers at a American Idol show!
Lattimore on Feb 26, 2013
Um, I believe "Computer GENERATED Image" fits the context better. They work with 3D software like Maya, which is completely different from traditional drawing. It's entirely possible to be good in Maya, but suck at traditional art. Graphic designers and graphic artists are pretty much the same thing by the way. Just google image both of those terms and you'll get the same results. Don't quibble over some semantics.
bleachedsnow on Feb 26, 2013
I might point out that your use of 'some semantics' is grammatically incorrect 🙂
lattimore on Feb 27, 2013
Let's consider how inefficiently many of the big houses are run... Many of the boutiques are thriving, running efficient businesses with minimal staff. The approach of so many large vfx houses is to hire as much staff as possible, throwing money and employees at problems instead of intelligent and creative solution. Many of these companies DESERVE to go under given the asinine ways in which they're run. This doesn't go for every company out there, but understand that the artists are suffering not solely at the hands of a producer or studio exec, but at the hands of their own boss who, in some cases, runs the business right into the ground. It doesn't matter if you did the vfx on Life of Pi, or some cheesy D flick... If the business isn't run properly, it won't stay afloat. This is how the real world works... Run a more conservative business, rather than signing on for ridiculous deals that are too good to be true, only in the spirit of beating a competitor to a major project...
Joe on Feb 26, 2013
I'm sorry, but I have to question this statement. According to a link in the above story, under update, is a thread from the VFX workers who say they work 12 hours a day but only get 5% of the total income coming in from the movie. I think this is more of a greed thing than a poor company thing. The directors keep demanding to pay less while demanding a better project. i really feel for these people.
kim on Feb 26, 2013
This is true, but not a result of the studio. VFX Producers running the houses enter these deals that they know won't bring a decent pay out to their employees, but they go ahead with it to remain a relevant company in an increasingly competitive market. Ironically, this is how many houses are going out of business. The directors aren't demanding to pay less at all. I'm not sure what knowledge you have of the film industry, but the director isn't involved in the decisions of "paying less" unless he wears multiple hats. In fact, it's more common that the director wants to pay more!!
Joe on Feb 27, 2013
Not according to Ang Lee he said he wished it was cheaper. The truth is the entire business is broken. You unfortunately have to go for those too good to be true deals. Its the only way you will get work. When you have someone in China and India charging less and governments in New Zealand and Australia etc throwing you 40 to 60% tax incentives, you cant compete. These businesses run as efficiently as they can. VFX is the only part of the movie industry that still doesn't have a union. I bet you even the cleaners have a union on set.
TK on Feb 28, 2013
Cool little video I made to support the #vfxprotest cause. https://vimeo.com/60545199
Gabriel Saldarriaga on Feb 26, 2013
Cool... is such a 'relative' term.
lattimore on Feb 28, 2013
Really people? You're going to argue over the semantics of signage? You're clearly missing the bigger picture here. These are people who are just trying to make their way in the world. They work hard everyday and, more often then not overtime, only to come home with no paycheck and a uncertain future about their next job. VFX, and animation are incredible stressful and often thankless jobs, so give these people some respect and stop picking apart their signs and actually read them.
Sarah on Feb 26, 2013
Thanks again for posting about this. Both my husband and I are VFX artists. We worry about this every day to support our family. This issue is actually a decade old. We've been talking about a union since 2005. It's disappointing that SAG, WGA, DGA, and PGA are not releasing statements to support our efforts for equality in the workplace. Our friends at R&H are really hurting now. There are reports that their insurance companies are not reimbursing their care because the company is folding. It's unfortunate that it's going to take several more tragedies in order to get real change.
Alex O on Feb 26, 2013
When we say "outsource" are we also talking about Weta Digital and not just China and India?
Why? on Feb 26, 2013
David Lee Roth hasn't eaten in WEEKS!!
Alan Trehern on Feb 26, 2013
Not only were they cut off during the ABC Televised ceremony. But also on the behind the scenes webcast. The 'Press Cam' was cut to commercial immediately once they began to speak about the financial difficulties facing the VFX industry. Once the commercial was over, they were on a different subject. - - Sad So, the second time was just a coincidence? If it was, it surly didn't appear so.
tigyi on Feb 26, 2013
This is just sad. Rhythm & Hues is seriously one of the best VFX houses in town. The fact that they were treated so poorly is not cool. I hope other VFX companies take notice and start treating their crew better. 'Life of Pi' would have been absolute shit without the amazing visuals.
Joe's Daily on Feb 26, 2013
Here's the thing folks need to think about: Economics 101. You get what you pay for. If the directors use overseas VFX, it affects the US economy and is a domino effect that touches all Americans. Plus some of the overseas VFX are like the overseas customer service centers and we all know how well that works. Shabby products at a lower price. If the movie effects are bad, folks won't want to go to the movies, which affects the theaters, which affects the video stores, which affects jobs, etc. Hollywood isn't just out of touch with society, they are now out of touch with economics. Folks get upset over a Wallstreet CEO making 10 million dollars a year while the workers perish. We have the same problem. A director gets millions of dollars while the workers perish. What's the difference? One is Hollywood and one is Wallstreet. I feel for these workers. And the directors will blame it on Bush. 🙂
kim on Feb 26, 2013
And I welcome you all to the land of the conservatives. 🙂
kim on Feb 26, 2013
This is unheard of! Nobody who works hard to make something that amazingly beautiful, especially those who has been awarded with a highest award should go broke!
Lindsey on Feb 26, 2013
Lol if they unionize, that will guarantee that 100% of the work will be sent "overseas."
Sal on Feb 26, 2013
How About this... Stop Training people in China, India, Russia ect... so they can do VFX work for dirt cheap. How about letting VFX artist and workers create a union so they can protect there jobs and future. How about Government realizing that these good jobs are flowing out of this country every day and that tax breaks outside of this country are unfair. How about competing as a country. Outsourcing is for pigs. Don't be a pig!
RB3 on Feb 27, 2013
Thank you for posting this! I, too, was troubled by the silencing of the mic. This is one of the only sources (and the best source) I could find about it.
Maria Hall on Feb 27, 2013
jonlijoblufish on Feb 27, 2013
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