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  • Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
    Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
  • TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz

A Night to Remember

Last night was a rough one for the Visual Effects community.

I was about to embark down the road of writing up the evening’s events, as if I was some kind of journalist.

But I’m not. I’m a director, and a visual effects artist. I’m a fan of film who fantasized about making movies ever since seeing Star Wars at age five. I’m also a survivor of a VFX company bankruptcy.

So I know what it’s like to be an artist who feels overworked and under appreciated.

And I know what it feels like to start your dream company, and see it collapse.

I also know what it feels like to be a director who can’t afford all the VFX I’d like in my own work.

And here’s what I have to say:


Congratulations to the visual effects crew of Life of Pi. I am simply blown away by your work. Your tigers and waves and artistry and technical mastery made me laugh and cry and revel in how wonderful movies can be. I know how hard it is to do what you did, and even though I know exactly how you did it, I have no idea how you pulled it off.

Congratulations to Bill Westenhofer, for your amazing work to be sure, but also for the nonobvious gift of being cut off at the exact right moment to make the experience awful enough for all involved that the world took notice. You did the right thing by starting off with proper acknowledgments, and then the right thing again by jumping right into the controversy. You came off as a class act, and as is so often the case with visual effects and cinema, you’ve captivated the world’s attention with what they didn’t get to see.

Congratulations to Claudio Miranda, who I know in my heart appreciates the hell out of the work that shares the frame with his. Although he failed to mention the VFX crew as their images danced behind him on stage, he later acknowledged it to press backstage.

Congratulations to the 400+ VFX artists who demonstrated in a way that got all the right kinds of attention. That’s not easy. As a nation, we suck at it. As a group of nerdy artists, you nailed it.

Congratulations to Ang Lee, for both your talent behind the lens, and also for the gift that awaits you. You’ve put your foot in your mouth twice now about how you wish visual effects could be less expensive, and in doing so, I dare hope that you’ve made it nearly impossible for yourself to continue to ignore the nuances of the situation. A wonderful education awaits you. Please listen to the thoughts and frustrations of the visual effects artists whose work you presided over so masterfully.

Their stories are true.

Reader Comments (11)

I think if Ang Lee wants cheaper VFX he should create them on his own. Another ego run amok in Hollywood...

February 25, 2013 | Registered CommenterJames Barton

Thanks Stu. Well said.

February 25, 2013 | Registered CommenterAdam Stern

Very well stated and thanks for those links. I avoid the Oscars like the plague these days - so had missed this news. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

February 25, 2013 | Registered Commentertest

I will say that I was not overly impressed with Claudio Miranda non VFX shooting in the film. I think the VFX work is what won him the statue. Deakins work in Skyfall was amazing and the best I saw this year.

February 25, 2013 | Registered Commentertest

Is the core issue affecting the VFX industry that it is over saturated? Way more supply than demand? So VFX houses are bidding contracts at cost and simply cannot sustain themselves once big projects run out? And thus the resulting irony of Oscar winning work not even being enough to guarantee sustainability?

And as a symptom of this problem, in an effort to keep costs down, artists that are fortunate enough to work on motion pictures are worked like mules.

I'm sure it might be much more complex than this, but at its core, can most of the problems be traced back to the fundamental issue of basic economics? Supply and demand? Right now, the curves aren't at a happy middle point, the point on the demand curve is much lower than the higher point on the supply curve, and so in a scramble to get a piece of the demand, something has to give on the supply side?

February 26, 2013 | Registered CommenterRyan Farnes

Ryan, here's a nice write up by long-time VFX Supervisor Scott Squires on exactly that question.

February 26, 2013 | Registered CommenterStu

Very interesting read Stu. Thanks.

February 26, 2013 | Registered CommenterRyan Farnes

You're right about Bill Westenhofer doing the right thing and coming across as a class act. My immediate reaction was to be a bit miffed with him for using up his time saying too many thank you's... But I get it now. Thanks for pointing this out Stu.

February 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterJoe Pavlo

That article by Scott Squires is full of insight. Not just your average conspiracy theories, but a comprehensive list of problems and their causes, analyzed with the necessary knowledge of basic economics to discern what means what.

Now, going on from there...

* The downside: fair or not, international competition is here to stay. If you ponder "What's Ang Lee going to do, take his VFX to China?", well, think about it...

* The upside: most VFX-heavy films make a lot of money, even if they're not great movies by many standards. The best way out for the VFX houses that can manage that is to produce and distribute their own movies. If most of the budget of Life of Pi was spent on VFX, what the VFX house needs is a bigger share of the pie, and for that they may have to produce and distribute the film themselves. You "only" need a moderate success for your first film, then a moderate success for your second film, and you're in business. I know that's a very weird definition of the word "only", but hey, how did Pixar become a major force in the movie industry?

March 4, 2013 | Registered CommenterSamuel H

Pixar became a major force after over sixteen years of research, commercial work, short films, and many, many, many failures. For years, they weren't even trying to make their own content, they were trying to sell hardware. They were able to keep going during such a long effort because George Lucas, and then Steve Jobs, were willing to pay for their work-- in other words, they had a pair of patrons willing to pour money into the company until something stuck. How do you propose a vfx studio find that kind of backing, especially when potential investors can point to the graveyard of vfx companies? Samuel, your definition of "only" is not just weird, it is absolutely ludicrous.

March 13, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Alejandro

Yes, I know. And still, I think *some* will try, if only because there are not many other ways forward in this landscape. They surely won't have at their disposal all the means they would like to have, and of course failure is a very probable outcome. But I think *some* will try, and there's a chance that a few of those *some* may succeed.

March 14, 2013 | Registered CommenterSamuel H
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