VFX Community Planning Protest During Oscars

7:10 PM PST 02/22/2013 by Carolyn Giardina
"Life of Pi"

A small plane with a banner that reads “Box Office + Bankrupt = Visual Effects vfxunion.com” is scheduled to fly over the red carpet Sunday.

The visual-effects community is planning a demonstration during Sunday's Academy Awards to press the film industry to focus on the economic problems threatening Hollywood's VFX houses. 

Many in that world argue that effects houses are struggling because of a business model that doesn't work, and they point to Rhythm & Hues Studios -- the VFX house behind the CG tiger in Oscar-nominated Life of Pi -- and the fact that it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Feb. 13 as the latest evidence.

A small plane with a banner that reads "Box Office + Bankrupt = Visual Effects vfxunion.com" will fly over the red carpet on Sunday, according to the demonstration's organizers.

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The plane will take off from Compton/Woodley Airport, where VFX pros will be gathered. A second group plans to assemble in the Hollywood & Vine area, near where celebrities and filmmakers will be arriving to walk the red carpet, in order to attract media attention.

Dave Rand, an artist at Rhythm & Hues, said the aim of the effort is “awareness. We are not disrespecting Life of Pi or Rhythm & Hues. We are trying to enlighten the studios that they are taking their racehorse and beating it to death.”

Some of the factors affecting the industry include intense competitive bidding that leads to companies taking on projects at low, fixed bids; globalization as government incentives and cheap labor abroad have 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.

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Organizers do not know how many artists will participate Sunday, but Rand said the group will not be limited to those affected by the R&H bankruptcy.

Rhythm & Hues filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week and is aiming to quickly complete a sale of its assets. It has identified several parties who are interested in acquiring the company.

On Friday, a bankruptcy judge approved $17 million in loans from Universal and Fox, integral to the VFX house's plans to stay in operation for the next few months and complete 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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On Thursday, a judge approved $4.9 million in financing that Legendary Pictures will pay Rhythm & Hues for the completion of their movie Seventh Son.

In conjunction with the bankruptcy filing, layoffs affected 250 R&H employees. On Feb. 15, a class-action lawsuit was filed against R&H, alleging labor violations.

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