Thursday, February 28, 2013

Oscars controversy: Rhythm & Hues

The Academy Awards ceremony took place on Sunday 24th February - whilst remembered by many as a glamorous celebration of modern Hollywood and famous actors, it's also spurred a lot of controversy, particularly from the visual effects industry.

Rhythm & Hues, the VFX company that worked on Life of Pi (and has previously worked on The Hunger Games, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter), won the award for Best Visual Effects. But when supervisor Bill Westenhofer accepted the award, his speech was cut short following his announcement that the company was experiencing "severe financial difficulties". 

“What I was trying to say up there is that it’s at a time when visual effects movies are dominating the box office, but that visual effects companies are struggling. And I wanted to point out that we aren’t technicians,” said Westenhofer, who shares the award with fellow winners Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott. ”Visual effects is not just a commodity that’s being done by people pushing buttons. We’re artists, and if we don’t find a way to fix the business model, we start to lose the artistry. If anything, Life of Pi shows that we’re artists and not just technicians.”

"Several hundred people reportedly congregated outside the Dolby theatre in Los Angeles as the stars walked the red carpet, demanding better treatment for the artists who make the spectacular visuals for blockbuster movies possible. The protest was planned after the well-known Rhythm & Hues effects house filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week, shortly after winning a Bafta for its work on Life of Pi."

"One protester, Nancy Evans, who left the visual effects business a few years ago, told Variety, “If these companies are getting subsidized by taxpayer money, where is the money going? If it’s not going to artist salaries and it’s not going to the effects companies, where is it going? It seems to me that’s a continuation of expressing money from working people to wealthy investors.”
According to Variety, among the industry practices that protesters declared detrimental to visual effects artists were the current fixed-bid business model and the need for artists to move from place to place around the world to find work."
It seems astonishing to me that in an age where many films are wholly dependant on visual effects, the artists responsible still go under-appreciated and underpaid, even in the highest profile productions. The work is extremely time-consuming and intense, and requires years of training to reach a professional standard. The fact that the industry is suffering financial problems, on top of the issues of students being under-trained and generally unsure of how to get started in the industry, doesn't give good impressions. I can only hope that Hollywood and also educational constitutions begin to change their approach to this crucial side of filmmaking.

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