LITTLE ROCK A day or so after the Oscars telecast, an Internet meme made it to my newsfeed. It was an image of Ang Lee, winner of the Best Director Oscar for the computer-generated-imagery-heavy Life of Pi, holding up his statue and giving it a nice kiss. This image was captioned “Ang Lee with VFX.” It was accompanied by another, identical image of Lee, only without the trophy - looking slightly foolish as he held up and an empty fist and puckered his lips. That was “Ang Lee without VFX.”
The point is unmissable: VFX - video effects - make some movies. As a visual effects artist myself (I mainly do motion graphics, but am working as VFX artist on my own film in production), I was curious as to what happened on Sunday evening in the Dolby Theater in Hollywood when the Life of Pi visual effects team was played off stage by an unusually awkward rendition of the Jaws theme. Was it supposed to be funny? Did they really run out of time? Why was that guy still up there speaking and why did Seth MacFarlane look clearly befuddled (well, OK, he looked that way all night)? So I did some digging, and apparently the VFX studio that worked on the spectacle Life of Pi - an outfit called Rhythm & Hues - filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy this month, despite the Oscar nomination and subsequent win.
I found another meme in my social media feed, including another image set that included shots of well known visual effects scenes without compositing work, such as Mark Ruffalo in his motion capture suit as the Hulk for The Avengers standing in front of a car, grimacing. The caption asked: “Still impressed?” Just try and picture Voldemort - the menacing villain in the Harry Potter films - with a green nose. I asked a couple of local post-production and visual effects artists their opinions on the matter.
Conway filmmaker Joe Meils, who is about to start work on his own visual effects feature Fartzilla, using old-school Hollywood and Japanese techniques, was pretty vocal about the treatment of VFX artists.
“This is just the latest slap in the face to visual effects people,” he says. “ Since at least the time of Willis O’Brien [King Kong], studios, producers, directors, and especially the marketing moguls have downplayed the contributions of highly creative techs who pull off illusions in the films we all enjoy: The O’Briens, the [Ray] Harryhausens, the John Dykstras, the Albert Whitlocks, the Douglas Trumbulls… all have been ignored at one time or another. They have been cheated, they have had their credits withheld, they have had their reputations sullied by “auteurs” who, frankly, were working in the studio mailroom the month before. Without them, the ‘magic’ of movies becomes about as inspiring as a bowl of cold oatmeal.”
Todd Gill, of North Little Rock’s Digital Post Inc., says, “It’s sad that happened to Rhythm & Hues. I think the film industry expects more for less, and the bigger companies just can’t compete due to the overhead - though it does take an army of artists to do this kind of film.” Levi Agee is a Little Rock filmmaker. Write him at email@example.com
MovieStyle, Pages 37 on 03/01/2013
Print Headline: Screen Gems