SIGGRAPH: 'Beauty and the Beast' VFX Presentation Canceled for "Legal Reasons"

Beauty And The Beast 5 - Dan Stevens - Still - H - 2016

The participants in a scheduled session on the making of Beauty and the Beauty at SIGGRAPH, the CG and VFX confab currently taking place in Los Angeles, quietly canceled Monday’s panel for “legal reasons,” according to a representative from the conference committee.

While the scheduled participants — which included speakers from Disney and VFX house Digital Domain 3.0 — didn’t elaborate on their reasons for the cancellation, legal issues surround the facial capture system MOVA, which was used to create the Beast.

A year ago, Digital Domain lost the right to use the facial capture system when Rearden LLC (the company that invented the system) secured an injunction against two Chinese firms that purchased allegedly stolen MOVA technology, which was being licensed by Digital Domain.

On July 17, Rearden took it a step further, seeking an injunction prohibiting Disney from distributing Beauty and the Beast, as well as Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron, which it claimed “used the stolen MOVA Contour systems and methods, made derivative works and reproduced, distributed, performed and displayed at least Guardians of the GalaxyAvengers: Age of Ultron and Beauty and the Beast, in knowing or willfully blind violation of Rearden Mova LLC’s intellectual property rights." Disney hasn't responded to requests for comment on the injunction, and Digital Domain has declined comment.

The decision not to present its work at SIGGRAPH also signals a potentially tricky predicament that Disney and Digital Domain (as well as Beauty and the Beast's additional VFX vendors such as Framestore) could face as Hollywood's awards season approaches. Disney presumably planned to campaign Beauty and the Beast for the VFX Oscar on the strength of work that, notably, included a performance capture-based Beast, as well as many effects including CG environments and a supporting cast of anthropomorphic household items.

An attorney representing Rearden head Steve Perlman tells The Hollywood Reporter that the suit against the studios is the second phase of Rearden’s ongoing litigation against the companies it feels stole and then illegally used and profited from its MOVA technology. “This was the other shoe dropping,” says Mark Carlson, an attorney at Hagens Berman in Seattle. “There was the original group that essentially stole the technology and began offering it. This suit picks up and addresses the studios that have used the technology and incorporated it into their pictures.”

The legal tussle between Perlman and his former employee Greg LaSalle went to court last year and resulted in a trial over a single issue: ownership. The judge has yet to issue a ruling in that case. As a result, Carlson contends, the studios have little excuse for using a technology they knew had been mired in legal trouble. “An IP due diligence search, competently done, would have shown there were issues with the assignments,” says Carlson, “They’d worked with Perlman before and could have asked questions. They didn’t do that.”

A week after Rearden demanded an injunction on the Disney films, it filed similar lawsuits aimed at Fox and Paramount.