VFX protest at Oscars: images from the picket line + audio interview

Jeff Heusser is on hand at the VFX protest outside the Oscars for fxguide.

The protest is not a strike, “it is an effort to raise awareness,” explained VFX supervisor Scott Squires speaking to fxguide as he marched moments ago.

Here is a phone interview done minutes ago, from the VFX / Oscar protest march. Mike Seymour speaks to Jeff Heusser at the march and he is joined by Scott Squires. (Sorry for the audio quality but it was recorded as they walked).

Supporting events are being reported to be happening in Canada, New Zealand and New York.

We spoke to Jeff, right before a police escorted march was about to start. The crowd has been growing since lunchtime as people gather to protest the state of the industry, and the often times harsh way that falls on the individual artists, but Jeff reports that the “mood is good, upbeat and positive”. There are now some 360 people by the count of the organizers. You can see in these images people with small green tape on their shirts – this was used to accurately count protesters. The final number may run higher as the march starts, which it is as we are posting this. UPDATE: final total was 483 when we were last able to check in with Sam Edwards.

A protestor being counted and tagged as counted with a green camera tape by VFX Supervisor Sam Edwards.
Respected VFX supervisor Scott Squires ex ILM (Episode1 etc) marching (second from right)
Some protesters are angry over the huge success of films and the plight of their VFX companies



Dave Rand, R&H senior FX artist of Life of Pi and Seventh Son.   (Houdini expert behind the sky/water/etc CG in Life of Pi).

More photos can be seen in this flickr set.

Business issues facing visual effects studios and artists have been a hot topic for years, the last few months have been downright depressing. Before the dust had settled on the bankruptcy and re-emergence of Digital Domain news spread of other companies slimming down, missing payrolls… the kinds of things we have sadly become far too accustomed to hearing. Meanwhile box office records continue to be set by visual effects films.

As we entered the heart of awards season, the news kept getting worse and Rhythm & Hues Chapter 11 hit right before the VES Awards. We find our industry in a situation where Life of Pi, the leading candidate to win the Visual Effects Oscar, (based on other award show wins and the vaunted VFX Predictinator) had a primary vendor that is in Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. Traditional media sources have been quick to pick up that story – NPR, The LA Times, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Wall Street Journal Deadline Hollywood and The Huffington Post have all run stories about the state of the visual effects business in recent days.

With that window of exposure open, some Los Angeles visual effects artists took note of a tweet by former ILM GM and DD Founder Scott Ross:

I had a dream, 500 VFX artists near the Dolby (Kodak) theater on Oscar day waving signs that say “I WANT A PIECE OF THE PI TOO.”

From this, Twitter, Facebook, email groups, blogs all started buzzing about actually doing that, looking for a way to protest at the Oscars to bring visibility to the issues. What issues? We go back to Scott Ross who followed up with this tweet:

Message is simple: VFX artists create incredible images that translates into huge box office. BUT, VFX companies are going out of business.

New twitter accounts like @VFXSoldarity have started speaking out and visual effects artist David Rand has been working with a group looking to get media attention by flying a banner over the awards – – a plane flying a banner reading BOXOFFICE + BANKRUPT = VISUAL EFFECTS VFXUNION.COM will be in the skies over the awards – you can follow those activities and learn of additional meet ups at @vfxunited.

VFX Soldier has also been covering the awards protest and there are many comments on his blog.

All eyes will be on the acceptance speech as well, many feel that the most effective way to raise the issue to a higher lever is to mention the plight of the industry in the winning speech. So as you watch the Oscars, keep one eye on your Twitter feed, scan the crowd shots from outside the Dolby Theatre and in Los Angeles keep an eye on the skies… visual effects artists are looking for creative ways to share their stories.

UPDATE: More details for those interested in participating can be found in this post: vfxsoldier.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/vfx-oscars-demonstration-hollywood-vine-1pm-430pm

14 thoughts on “VFX protest at Oscars: images from the picket line + audio interview”

  1. Great coverage! Thanks for keeping us VFX industry sympathizers who do not live in LA posted on the protest!

  2. Christian Moreton

    It’s definitely time for VFX artists to conduct a general strike. We don’t need a union right now, but we need to show that we can act in unison or our treatment will continue to decline.

    During that day, we need to have an open forum discussion a standardization of rates, hours, terms, overtime pay etc. because the conversations are career suicide to have inside a studio.

    Clients will ALWAYS act like clients, studios will only respect the bottom line, that is their nature. They will always feign ignorance of our issues to avoid responsibility. It’s up to artists to grow a pair and stand up for our rights. Studios which fire artists for participating in the general strike need to be boycotted by applicants and shut down by us.

    I’ve heard it said by producers that “artists hold all the power” but we never exercise it. Time to quit whining and make a stand.

    1. Call this a biased perspective, but aren’t you calling for artists to … unionize?? “We don’t need a union, but we need to exercise our leverage by banding together and create workplace standards and find a way to enforce labor laws”

      You’re calling for what you say you don’t need .. and that’s a union.

      1. Christian Moreton

        I was a member of IATSE years ago as a camera assistant. If we go union I really hope we don’t structure it that way. For example, ones position in the union is not flexible, and if a person is ready to upgrade roles, it’s a committee decision and fees have to be paid. Crappy people with tenure end up working over talented people, crushing them. Initiation, hazing and sexist thuggery are common. The union experience left a bad taste, it killed the joy of the art and replaced it with militarized interchangeability.

        I want artists to stand up for themselves, but I don’t want that effort to be hijacked by lazy teamsters and gangsters. That would be equally damaging to the art.

        1. It would be a mistake to lump all unions together or base everything on one person having a bad past experience. I have had long talks with both IATSE and IBEW and both are saying they would start a new branch for visual effects – we would be the ones setting it up. I’m not saying a union is a magic cure or is not susceptible to ills that tend to creep in to any large organization but we would be involved in the creation, setup and running of this.

          1. Correct me if I am wrong, but its seems as if there hasnt been a whole lot of success by any union to keep production in Los Angeles or in dealing with the Tax Subsidies. You can just take a look at FilmWorks LA to see how much the industry has been affected over the last 10 years by runaway production.

            Take a look at the R&H bankruptcy, would unionization have prevented that? I think that it might have gotten people a little more notice, but would it have saved any jobs? Could the Union have forced major clients like Fox, Warner Brothers, Universal, to pony up more cash so that they could finish the work? What tools do they have at their disposal besides the WARN act, which as we have seen thus far is of little or no deterrence?

            Unions are fine, they do have an impact in industries where the work is truly freelance, but contrary to what people may think, the way a freelance model works for production is not the same as the “freelance” model of VFX. Unions are great at pushing for employees rights in a production context, the employer is the studio. For VFX artists, the employer is a step down the chain from the real money, and they are often getting squeezed way too hard by THEIR clients. I wonder if IATSE could leverage its position in production to force Warner Brother to pay more to a Visual FX shop for their work in a film like PI? Something tells me that wouldn’t happen, but I have been wrong before.

  3. Thanks for the great coverage, it is SUCH a worthwhile protest – and it’s past time that we take steps to change the current paradigm. Clearly, much of the on-screen value that audiences react to is created by VFX houses.

  4. Great to see people stand up! i remember podcasts on FXguide talking about problems and unions years ago, maybe steps towards change?

  5. Pingback: What having a daily routine has to do with Fun.* | The Girl Who Knows

  6. Pingback: La vida de Pi. Rhythm & Hues en bancarrota - El Blog de Zao3d

  7. Pingback: Thoughts on the VFX Crisis - Outside Hollywood

  8. Pingback: A Piece of the Pi - Thinking Animation

  9. Pingback: Thinking Animation | A Piece of the Pi - Thinking Animation

Comments are closed.