Many are now aware of the bankruptcy of Rhythm & Hues, the VFX studio behind Life of Pi. While a protest at the Oscars sparked by the unfortunate turn of events for the company didn’t receive much mainstream attention, words and pictures soon began to spread. Adding insult to injury, the visual effects acceptance speech for their academy award was cut short by the theme from Jaws, and their mics turned off as soon as the bankruptcy situation was mentioned. While many have been quick to suggest they were cut off because of the controversial (and by controversial, I mean portraying Hollywood in a very negative light) topic, the music cue began before any mention of Rhythm & Hues’ financial issues, although cutting mics seems like a very harsh method of forcing someone off the stage. Even Ang Lee was criticised in an open letter from a VFX artist, in my opinion somewhat unfairly. Lee doesn’t have much control over the way Hollywood works, and while it’s not entirely unreasonable to feel snubbed when you’re not highlighted in an Oscar acceptance speech, it isn’t exactly easy to keep a completely level head and mention everyone involved in the film, even if their work is an integral part of it.
Rhythm & Hues has been involved with many major productions, including The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, and even Babe. Their bankruptcy and consequent loss of jobs resulted in a protest of 400 people at the Oscars. While attempting to attract mainstream media attention when there are fancy frocks and George Clooney to to look at is a fruitless exercise, the message soon spread through online services such as Twitter, and many have changed their profile photos to green squares as a show of support.
The collapse of other VFX studios, and the consequent lack of work for Artists, is an inevitability under the current system. Major productions such as Life of Pi are essentially put on the market for VFX studios to bid on, the most cost-effective proposal generally being chosen. Unfortunately, these studios occasionally lower the price to such a level that paying the artists, or even remaining economically viable, becomes a genuine issue. Combine that with cheap outsourcing, and you get higher profits for the Hollywood oligarchies, while artists lose their jobs.
‘It’s closer to a defense contract than anything else. Multiple studios compete against each other, bidding on work on a limited number of massive films, each trying to undercut the other without strangling themselves on shoestring budgets.’
— from an article by Christian Brown
High budget features are monumental productions, and cost-cutting will always occur on some level, but the injustice of a Rhythm & Hues going bankrupt, when the film those artists more or less constructed wins an academy award for visual effects, is something that is difficult to comprehend.