by Lauren Davis
While ABC showed viewers the glitz and glamor of Sunday night’s Academy Awards from the red carpet and inside the Dolby Theater, across the street there was a very different show going on. Members of the visual effects (VFX) industry gathered on Hollywood Boulevard to raise awareness about the financial hardships faced by VFX houses, and the people who work to make our movies more beautiful. You might have heard something about it during the Oscars — if you could make it out over the Jaws music.
Over the last few months, gaming and film VFX studios have seen major layoffs (a redditor on r/Games compiled a handy list of recent layoffs). Just this month, Rhythm and Hues, the studio that received Visual Effects Oscars for Babe, The Golden Compass, and, most recently, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, declared that it plans to file for bankruptcy, and Pixomondo, the German VFX house that won a Visual Effects Oscar for Hugo, announced it would be shuttering its London and Detroit operations.
Yet, as HitFix notes in their excellent editorial on the problem, if you look at Hollywood’s top-grossing movies — Avatar, Titanic, The Avengers, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 — they’re all movies that depend heavily on visual effects. So how have we ended up here? Well, visual effects are, by their nature, a very expensive business. They require long hours from highly skilled artists, computer scientists, and coordinators. They require cutting-edge hardware and software, not to mention all the time and money poured into research and development. And, while movie studios will allot a sizable portion of their budget to visual effects, VFX houses are frequently working for a fixed fee and don’t see the financial profits from these high-grossing films.