Everyone’s aware of the role visual effects play in movies nowadays. What many people aren’t aware of is the actual process behind the magic.
Visual effects (VFX) work is not done by the studio; it is given to outside companies that specialize in that area of post-production. And while that sounds fine and dandy, the situation for VFX artists at the moment is far from dandy. And fine. Both of those.
One particular example brought the issue into focus last spring: Rhythm and Hues, the VFX company that brought the tiger in Life of Pi to life, went bankrupt after the release of the film, despite the success it had at the box office. A good summary of the situation can be found here.
After this news hit the public, VFX artists assembled and organizations such as VFX Solidarity International were spawned. Their mission is to identify and address the problems facing VFX artists, many of which include unstable living situations and unsatisfactory pay.
What’s causing the problems? One reason is the fixed-fee model the VFX companies follow, in which they create the visual effects for a movie at a rate that doesn’t change, even in the face of production problems–it also doesn’t change depending on the success of the movie, which is the reason Life of Pi’s success did nothing for Rhythm and Hues. Another reason is the effect of subsidies that make it cheaper for studios to film in one location and export post-production to another.
It’s definitely an issue that raises questions about the future of the industry. Will all VFX be eventually outsourced, or can we integrate VFX artists with the studio, giving them a cut of the profit when the movies they work on do well?