Feb 25, 2013

Is The VFX Industry Going Extinct? The Dark Shadow Of Rythm & Hues

With a great deal of friends in the VFX industry, yesterday saw a strange turn of events in the social sphere following the 2013 Oscars, an event that netted Ang Lee's Life Of Pi four Academy Awards in the categories of best director, best cinematography, best visual effects, and best original score. Yet despite all those accolades and close to half a billion dollars in international box office revenue, the company that brought Ang Lee's vision to life, Rythm & Hues filed for bankruptcy just two weeks ago, resulting in 200 artists losing their jobs. This comes as the result of years of slaving over R&D, new pipelines and bringing the director's vision to life. 1200 other artists jobs currently hang in the balance.

The issue presents an ever growing concern with the state of the VFX industry, and the strange belief that the artistry behind these types of projects is the result of simply pushing a few buttons. Yesterday's Oscar's featured some moments that truly brought me pain, including the cast of Joss Wheadon's The Avengers making a complete mockery of the situation, Ang Lee disregarding giving any shout out to the VFX team on stage, and Bill Westenhofer (VFX supervisor on Life of Pi) getting cut off when he attempted to bring light to the plight of Rythm & Hues and the industry as a whole.

How did Rythm & Hues end up in such dire straits? Due to stiff global competition from international studios driving project bids down thanks to the help of government tax credits and subsidies, the American visual effects industry is facing extinction. Rythm & Hues founder John Hues mentioned in a town hall meeting that a similar studio in the UK would get as much as 60% of their production costs back thanks to government programs and state sponsored healthcare. In Canada a VFX studio gets paid $60 for every $100 that an employee makes through this system. Due to the ever shrinking profit margins and global competition, Rythm & Hues was forced to open studios outside the US to hunt for these questionable subsidies in order to keep themselves open, a practice that ultimately resulted in their self destruction. Yet can you blame them for trying to survive?

The thousands of artists working in this industry are angry at the fact that the major studios have no regard for the type of damage that these unregulated subsidies are causing to the playing field, and an utter lack of respect for the people that bring the studios visions to life, who receive little to no credit for their efforts. Is cheaper necessarily always better? Does artistry not factor into decisions made by these studios? It's time to raise awareness about these ongoing issues, which most non-industry people aren't even aware of. With your help we can raise public awareness to the ongoing plight of the VFX industry, and the struggle to keep it alive. I'd recommend checking out VFXSoldier for an insider perspective on what type of issues are destroying this industry, as well as the InternationalVFXSolidarity Facebook group.

For your reference, here are some award winning studio closures and bankruptcies in the last year or so alone. Troubling to say the least.

Pixomondo: Closures of London/Detroit Studios (Feb 23, 2013)
VFX Oscar wins:
  • 2012: Hugo 

Rythm & Hues: Bankruptcy (Feb 11, 2013)
VFX Oscar wins:
  • 2013: Life Of Pi
  • 2008: The Golden Compass
  • 1995: Babe

Digital Domain: Bankruptcy (September 11, 2012)
VFX Oscar wins:
  • 2008: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
  • 1998: What Dreams May Come
  • 1997: Titanic

Fuel VFX: Bankruptcy (August 27, 2012)
Partial Filmography:
  • 2012: Prometheus
  • 2012: The Avengers
  • 2011: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
  • 2011: Cowboys & Aliens
  • 2011: Thor
  • 2011: Captain America: The First Avenger
  • 2010: Ironman 2

Digital Matte World: Shut Down (August 26, 2012)
Partial Filmography
  • 2011: Hugo
  • 2011: Captain America: The First Avenger
  • 2010: Alice in Wonderland 
  • 2009: Terminator Salvation 
  • 2009: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
  • 2008: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

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