What's going on with the troubled VFX industry?

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Image credit: Jeff Heusser via Flickr

Image credit: Jeff Heusser via Flickr

What was the protest at the Oscars about?

When Rhythm & Hues declared bankruptcy, the Academy Awards ceremony was just around the corner, and VFX artists saw a chance to raise awareness about their grievances with the industry. Rand helped organize a demonstration of a reported 400-some visual effects artists that occurred while Oscar nominees hit the red carpet ahead of the Academy Awards telecast on Feb. 24.

Participants in the march, which began at the intersection of Hollywood Blvd. and Vine St., held signs that read, “Respect for VFX,” “Will matte paint for food,” “My job was outsourced and all I got was this lousy sign,” and, in reference to Rhythm & Hues’ work on Life of Pi, “We want a piece of the Pi.” Treviño, who was at the protest for two hours before heading back to work at Digital Domain’s offices across town, made a sign that read, “Chase talent not subsidies.”

What happened to the visual effects artists accepting their Oscar?

While VFX artists protested outside the Dolby Theatre, their colleagues inside took the opportunity to bring the industry’s troubles to the millions watching the Oscar telecast at home. When Bill Westenhofer accepted Life of Pi’s Oscar for visual effects, he doled out his thanks and then turned his attention to Rhythm & Hues, saying, “We want to thank all the artists who worked on this film for over a year, including Rhythm & Hues. Sadly Rhythm & Hues is suffering severe financial difficulties right now. I urge you all to remember—” and then his mic appeared to cut out.

Outrage from the several in the visual effects industry followed, but Don Mischner, director of the Oscars telecast, says Westenhofer’s speech was not cut due to the content of his speech. The orchestra started playing music – a questionable choice, the Jaws theme – to indicate he needed to wrap up his speech before Westenhofer mentioned Rhythm & Hues, while he was thanking his family. Sound on the mic was turned off when he continued to talk after the orchestra had begun playing.

Mischner released a statement responding to accusations that Westenhofer had been cut off for political reasons: “No one ever wants to play anyone off the stage. This is why we go to such great lengths to inform our nominees of the time limit, via letters, at the nominees luncheon and even during the producer’s speech to the audience immediately prior to the show. Playoff music is triggered solely by length of time and nothing else.”

Still, some were irked by how early the playoff music began for Westenhofer. The Jaws theme could be heard 43 seconds into Westenhofer’s speech. The Academy confirmed for EW that nominees are told to limit their acceptance speeches to 45 seconds and that that clock starts ticking as soon as the winner begins speaking. Others, however, were given more time for their acceptance speeches. Best Cinematography winner Claudio Miranda spoke for 54 seconds, and Best Supporting Actor winner Christoph Waltz said his thank-yous for one minute and 20 seconds – both without a note of playoff music coming from the orchestra. A representative for the Academy would not comment on this extra time given to other winners.

NEXT PAGE: What do directors and studio heads have to say about all this?

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