This week’s entertainment buzz: Oscars & VFX

And the Oscar Goes To… 

Kim Masters, host of KCRW’s The Business and Editor-at-large for The Hollywood Reporter joined Warren Olney on “To The Point” today to talk about some of the highs and lows of the Oscars. “It was kind of  like a bumper car,” she told Warren.

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VFX protest outside the Oscars, photo courtesy of VFX artist Jeff Heusser
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VFX protest outside the Oscars, photo courtesy of VFX artist Jeff Heusser

Spectacular effects have become the driver for why many people still go to the movie theater. This week on The Business we talk with two veteran VFX Supervisors Oscar-winner Craig Barron and Jeff Okun, Chair of the Board of the Visual Effects Society. Okun makes his point by saying that people don’t go see “Transformers” for Shia LaBeouf.

But these artists, especially those based in California, are struggling. Foreign subsidies and production incentives have lured production out of California. And the houses here are caught in a race to underbid each other to get work. VFX artists aren’t unionized and they don’t have a trade organization so they don’t have much leverage when it comes to negotiating with studios.

This plight was crystallized a couple of weeks ago when Rhythm & Hues— the VFX house responsible for the stunning effects on Oscar winner “Life of Pi” — filed for bankruptcy just as they were literally winning the BAFTA for their work.

I spoke with Dave Rand— a VFX artist at Rhythm & Hues who did not get laid off with the Chapter 11 filing– who helped organize a protest to bring attention to the plight of the Visual Effects industry.

This “Piece of the Pi Protest” attracted nearly 500 VFX artists to Hollywood and Vine. They even chartered a plane to fly overhead with a banner reading: “Box Office + Bankrupt = Visual Effects vfxunion.com“.

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VFX protest outside the Oscars, photo courtesy of VFX artist Jeff Heusser

Even though their company is struggling, the VFX artists for “Life of Pi” did take home the Oscar last night in Best Visual Effects Category. Bill Westenhofer accepting the award was about to acknowledge his company’s financial troubles when the Academy cut his mic and played him off stage with the shark music from Jaws. Backstage he finished his statement, telling the press:

Q.What does your win mean in light of the state of the industry with VFX, the folks protesting outside, and the Rhythm & Hues bankruptcy?

A.(Bill Westenhofer) What I was trying to say up there is that it’s at a time when visual effects movies are dominating the box office, that visual effects companies are struggling.  And I wanted to point out that we aren’t technicians.  Visual effects is not just a commodity that’s being done by people pushing buttons.  We’re artists, and if we
don’t find a way to fix the business model, we start to loses the artistry.  If anything, LIFE OF PI shows that we’re artists and not
just technicians.

VFX artist Jeff Heusser posted more photos from the protest on Flickr.