Animation Guild Picks Up Lunch For Overtime Workers at Rhythm & Hues

12:35 PM PST 03/03/2013 by Carolyn Giardina

The state of Rhythm & Hues -- the lead VFX house on "Life of Pi" that recently filed for bankruptcy -- was a big factor in last weekend’s VFX rally at the Oscars.

The Animation Guild, Local 839 of IATSE -- coordinating with digital artist Dave Rand, who was instrumental in assembling the visual-effects demonstration held on Oscar Sunday -- provided 64 pizzas for lunch Saturday at VFX house Rhythm & Hues.

R&H is the company behind the majority of the Oscar-winning VFX in Life of Pi; the company filed for bankruptcy protection on Feb. 13.

A note with the pizza read: "Heard you were hungry," and was signed, "The animation guild."

R&H had typically provided lunch and dinner during overtime, which was apparently eliminated as a cost-cutting measure due to the bankruptcy, according to Rand, who works at R&H. The Animation Guild’s Steve Kaplan called the lunch an "act of altruism,” saying that none from the guild were in attendance and there were no conditions related to the gesture.

The state of R&H -- the latest in a string of troubles in the VFX business -- prompted an Oscar Sunday VFX rally on Hollywood Blvd., during which close to 500 people representing the community gathered to bring the film industry’s attention to the economic problems threatening visual-effects houses.

There is currently no clear consensus in the VFX community as to how to address the troubled business model, but discussions include the potential of forming of a global trade association and/or union. (Organizer Rand supports both.)

Representatives from the Animation Guild and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers were in attendance at the Oscar Sunday rally to show support for the VFX artists.

Last week, the Visual Effects Society, a global honorary society of the VFX industry, sent an open letter to its membership calling for a "VFX Congress" to explore solutions to the problems facing the visual-effects industry, as well as asking the state of California to create new tax incentives.

Some of the factors currently affecting the business include intense competitive bidding that leads to companies taking on projects at low, fixed bids; globalization as government incentives and cheap labor abroad has created an uneven playing field; and tight profit margins -- often 5 percent or less -- that can be endangered if a project is canceled or delayed.

R&H has tapped financial advisory firm Houlihan Lokey to serve as lead financial advisor in its sale. It has identified several parties who are interested in acquiring the company.

On Feb. 21, a judge approved $4.9 million in financing that Legendary Pictures will pay R&H for the completion of VFX work on the movie Seventh Son. On Feb. 15, a bankruptcy judge approved $17 million in loans from Universal and Fox, integral to the VFX house's plans to operate for the next few months as it completes work on Universal's R.I.P.D., scheduled for release July 19, and Fox's Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, scheduled for Aug. 16.

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