Wow, there’s so much to say! Rather than blather on with a long introduction, let me just dive right in.


For those of you who don’t know, my cher, Mary Poplin, has been involved with the VFX industry for quite some time.  She’s worked as a matte painter, a compositor, a roto artist, and a stereoscopic conversion artist. She was my gateway into the wonderful world of VFX artistry. She’s legit, and has a pretty good reputation in the industry for being a hard worker and a straight shooter


She also quit the VFX industry three years ago. Why? Well, the answer to that question is a complicated one, but it all boils down to one basic idea: the VFX industry is imploding. And the artists are the ones who are suffering.


The current plight of the industry can probably best be illustrated by the bankruptcy of Rhythm and Hues, the company who did the bulk of the (Oscar winning) VFX work on Life of Pi. Here you have a company of very talented artists who nearly killed themselves to make that magical film happen. Theses artists worked 100 hour weeks, sacrificed time, family, and in some cases their health to provide form to Ang Lee’s vision. I think it’s safe to say that without their brilliant work, that movie could not have been made – there would have been no tiger, no ocean, no living island, nothing. It would have been an Indian actor, floating in a pool in a green room, talking to a green stuffed tiger.


And yet, despite their contribution to the success of this film – despite the fact that these artists turned out Oscar-worthy work – Rhythm and Hues filed for bankruptcy and many of the artists who worked on it are still unpaid for nearly three months worth of work. Three months! Keep in mind, that’s three months of 80-100 hour weeks.


I’m not qualified to discuss the minutiae of the situation, but I will say that one thing is clear (even to a dopey actor like me): the current VFX business model is no longer sustainable. These artists are frustrated, the shops are going bankrupt, and all the while, the studios are making hundreds of millions of dollars off of these films. Hundreds of millions of dollars.


Life of Pi recently hit the 600 million mark, and yet the artists who brought that tiger to life are struggling to pay their rent. They’re struggling to eat. Fox has made a fortune on this film, and the artists who made the film possible are struggling to cope with increasing hours, decreasing wages, and a terrifying lack of job security.

Scott Ross, laying it out.

Scott Ross, laying it out.

So what are they doing about it? Well, they’re doing what so many angry, exploited workers have done before them: they’re organizing! I have been privileged enough to take part in some pretty historic events, including the Piece of the Pi protest outside of the Oscars, and last night’s International FVX Solidarity round table. VFX artists are finally starting to assert their right to fair treatment, decent working conditions, and a larger stake in the films that have become increasingly dependent on their hard work.


They’re starting to realize that they’ve been abused by the system, and that they don’t have to put up with it any more. That’s pretty damn awesome, if you ask me. The tide is turning, and I’m excited to be a part of it, even in my small way. Solidarity!

Categories: General

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