Monday, February 25th, 2013 Posted by Jim Thacker

VFX artists stage protests at Academy Awards

The Jaws theme drowns out Bill Westenhofer (second from left) as he attempts to mention Rhythm & Hues’ recent financial issues during his acceptance speech for the visual effects Oscar last night. See the full clip here.

Visual effects artists staged a protest at working conditions in the industry near yesterday’s Academy Awards – and have continued to protest online today over the way the awards ceremony itself was handled.

According to Variety, “some 400-odd” artists marched through Hollywood to protest at international subsidies and outsourcing in the VFX market.

The idea of a protest was originally proposed by Digital Domain co-founder Scott Ross in a comment on the VFX Solider blog, which helped to co-ordinate proceedings; and was widely reported in the industry press.

Jaws music drowns discussion of Rhythm & Hues’ bankruptcy
The controversy continued at the ceremony itself, where the Oscar for Best Visual Effects was awarded to staff from MPC and Rhythm & Hues for their work on Ang Lee’s Life of Pi.

Overall VFX supervisor Bill Westenhofer tried to address the issue of Rhythm & Hues’ recent bankruptcy in his acceptance speech, but was drowned out by the orchestra playing the theme from Jaws.

Artists and sympathisers immediately took to social media to protest at the snub, with Visual Effects Society Awards host Patton Oswalt’s tweeting: “They just JAWS/BONANZA’ed you.” = new slang for “shut the fuck up”.

Industry veteran drafts open letter to Ang Lee
In an open letter to Ang Lee reposted on the VFX Soldier blog, Zoic Studios lead compositor Phillip Broste commented: “If this was meant as a joke, we artists are not laughing.”

Broste continues: “Mr. Lee, I do believe that you are a thoughtful and brilliant man … [but] you and everyone in your tier of our business is fabulously ignorant to the pain and turmoil you are putting artists through.”

“Our employers scramble to chase illegal film subsidies across the globe at the behest of the film studios. Those subsidies raise overhead, distort the market, and cause wage stagnation in what are already trying economic times.”

Controversy over use of free student labour
Indie drama Beasts of the Southern Wild, which was nominated for four Oscars, also sparked controversy over its use of free labour from students at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University to create its effects.

The resulting discussion thread on CGTalk covers both sides of the argument, and includes posts from some of the AAU students themselves. Interestingly, the latter are broadly supportive of the AAU program.

Winners and losers
Those celebrating on the night included Pixar, which won the award for Best Animated Film for Brave, and Disney, which won Best Animated Short Film for Paperman.

But the morning after the 2013 Academy Awards ceremony, most of the attention in the CG industry is for the conditions under which the award-winning work was created – not the work itself.

Read Variety’s article on the Oscar protest

Listed to fxguide’s podcast from the protest march

Read VFX Soldier’s posts on the topic (Includes the open letter to Ang Lee)