EMBLIDGE INSIGHT: Support the VFX Protests

VFX protest outside the Oscars, photo courtesy of VFX artist Jeff Heusser

VFX protest outside the Oscars, photo courtesy of VFX artist Jeff Heusser

By Wesley Emblidge

There were a lot of terrible things at the Academy Awards this year: Seth McFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs” song, the use of the “Jaws” theme to play people offstage, and “Skyfall” not winning best cinematography. But nothing could top the somewhat horrifying moment where, right after winning the award for Best Visual Effects (VFX), the currently bankrupt and unemployed winners attempted to make a statement about the issues in their industry, only to have their mics cut and to be ushered off stage by the ominous shark theme.

Most people tuning in didn’t even really notice what was happening. Maybe they mentally tuned out for the speech altogether. However just off the red carpet, a massive protest of workers in the VFX industry was being held. One would think, considering how heavily most major movies today rely on VFX to make their Transformers transform and their Avatars in “Avatar,” VFX workers would be some of the most sought-out and highest-paid people in the industry. To the contrary, the workers have been given less and less time to do more and more ambitious projects, leading them to work overtime without pay and even end up going bankrupt, like the team behind “Life of Pi,” Rhythm & Hues Studios. Many of these VFX houses are being shut down simply because studios will outsource VFX work to other countries for cheaper, just like other businesses.

The protests are somewhat disorganized right now, but the main message seems to be: treat us right, or we’ll be forced to unionize just like other groups.

Really, they should just unionize. It’d be better for everyone in the end, but it doesn’t make their point less important. We seriously need to evaluate who and what we appreciate about the industry. Most people watching the Oscars probably didn’t even pay attention to the cut-off speech by the Rhythm and Hues team, and yet were all ears while Kristen Stewart presented an award with an uninterested look on her face.

You’ve probably seen a lot of people with bright green profile pictures on various social networks over the past few weeks. It’s a way of supporting the industry with just a few clicks. It’s a way of saying “here’s what movies look like without the VFX people.” If this all goes far enough, we could see something like the writers strike from a few years back, and no movies with big effects for several months.