director Taika Waititi makes interviews fun. During the long and often tiring press tour the filmmakers endured to promote their latest films, Waititi brought his signature laid-back goofiness to the video in which he breaks down the scene. But this time it didn’t work. Waititi almost casually asked if a character named Korg, the CGI rock creature he also played, looked “real.” “Do I need to be more blue?” he asked.
The comment triggered headlines. Director Waititi seemed to be cruelly mocking his own film’s VFX work – work that VFX artists had labored for hundreds of hours. It got worse. At the same time, several Reddit threads emerged that charted the rough experiences of effects artists working on Marvel projects as far back as 2012.
“Working on Marvel projects ends up being incredibly stressful, and this is a widely known problem throughout the VFX industry, it’s not specific to any VFX house,” a person who worked on Marvel projects told CNET via email, speaking on condition of anonymity. . Industry standards dictate a strict policy of not speaking to the press.
Marvel and Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Visual effects artists are more in demand than ever, providing rich productions from Marvel, Warner Bros., Sony and more. VFX studios secure work by bidding based on the number of shots the studio requires. Competition can be fierce. While the low bid may win, the actual workload of the shots may vary dramatically.
“You bid on a few shots and hope that on average they’re not too complicated or difficult, or that the client gets too bogged down in the little details and keeps sending shots back to get more work,” said Peter Allen, animator and VFX artist and former lecturer in film and television production at the University of Melbourne.
The work is contracted to the VFX house for a set price. An effects artist can handle grueling hours to meet hard release dates but work unpaid overtime. If the final product falls short of the audience’s expectations, the VFX artists often take the blame.
“As a visual medium, visual effects are among the easiest targets for fans to pick, especially if there are leaks or premature release of unfinished footage,” Allen said.and are recent examples.
With an avalanche of new projects lined up in the next phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — a seemingly never-ending stream of content — effects artists have been under increasing pressure. Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk and Thor: Love and Thunder are the latest critics to weather the stunning effects of superpowers.
But now artists vital to Marvel’s narrative are speaking out. Tired of bearing the brunt of visual effects criticism, tired of punishing working conditions, VFX artists are demanding change.
If the industry can’t make major improvements, Marvel could be in trouble.
An infamous client
Even before public Reddit threads, insider stories and viral tweetsMarvel had a reputation for pushing VFX artists to the fringes. Forget 38-hour weeks. One source described the work as 60 to 80. This took “several months straight”.
The toll was brutal. “I’ve had to comfort people crying at their desks late at night from the sheer pressure, and I’ve routinely had colleagues call me saying I’m having anxiety attacks,” said the effects artist. “I’ve personally heard from many artists asking to avoid Marvel shows in their future assignments.”
Another VFX artist, who also wished to remain anonymous, described harsh conditions that went beyond Marvel’s machine.
“I’ve worked on several projects for Marvel and other flagship films,” the effects artist told CNET. “For many years I worked long hours, mostly unpaid. Not anymore. At no time do I work for free, nor will I work all night for a perceived emergency.”
One of the effects artists boils down Marvel’s problems to three main problems: the demand to see the near-finished work much earlier in the process compared to other clients; a high-pressure environment leading to burnout and low morale; and lower budgets are pushing more experienced and more expensive workers out of future Marvel projects.
Even after footage is exhaustively delivered, Marvel is reportedly “notorious” for asking for “tons of different variations” until one gets the green light. It doesn’t end there. Other production changes often come late in the game, potentially weeks from release, leading to the endemic practice of overtime. Even the most recent Doctor Strange movie underwent late changes in sequences involving VFX.
“We literally reconciled [VFX for] the entire third act of the movie, a month before release, because the director didn’t know what they wanted,” said one source in general at Marvel. “
Could the VFX houses push back? Not if they want to risk financial loss. In 2013, Rhythm & Hues, the acclaimed VFX house that worked on The Lord of the Rings and Life of Pi – which won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects – filed for bankruptcy. It was the last major independent VFX studio in Los Angeles. Moving Picture Company, the effects company that worked on Spider-Man: No Way Home, reportedly announced in July that it would freeze salary increases this year.
Providing a seemingly endless source of work, Marvel is a lucrative client. “Marvel has had several blockbusters and studios that don’t like them risk losing a lot of work,” said one effects artist. “So they don’t push back as much as they do with other clients.”
Marvel’s size makes it possible to secure advantageous effects work, “tie” the studio or move on to the next best contender. Still, for some, working on Marvel projects is no different than any other major action film. It’s about managing expectations.
Not all VFX gigs are a stunning challenge. Not even with Marvel.
“My experience working on one Marvel movie was pretty much the same as any other movie,” another artist told CNET. They said that while the workload was high, the deadlines “were the same as any other action film”.
Another VFX artist believes the onus is on effects houses to stand up for their workers, “pay overtime” and “manage expectations” both with clients and artists.
“The fault lies with the VFX studios, not the client – Marvel or otherwise.”
Still, less established VFX houses may lack the clout to protect artists from the “crazy” plans Marvel might impose. One solution to this performance dynamic has already begun to unfold.
A decade ago, visual effects artists were part of one of the “largest disorganized sectors in show business,” Variety reports. Since then, VFX unions such as the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees have attempted to organize visual effects artists.
“Unionizing employees would dramatically change the way VFX houses bid because they can’t simply throw bad choices at their employees,” said one effects artist. “It ensures that employees can’t be pushed as easily.”
For example, animation artists can band together in their workplaces with the help of the Animation Guild. The organization acts as an advocate for its members in wage disputes and other disputes between employees and employers. Major studios like Dreamworks and Walt Disney Animation Studios—as well as Marvel Animation—employ artists covered by the guild.
The time might be right to form a union for effects artists, said VFX artist Allen. “There’s a high demand for workers right now, so there’s an unusual opportunity for those workers to organize because production companies really need them.”
But this solution is not as easy as snapping your fingers. Outsourcing, or the use of unorganized workers, is another way that studios can reduce costs. “A lot of studios will bring people in on work visas with the promise of long-term employment,” said one effects artist. The studios then leave the staff “hanging”.
Still, the signs can be positive for effects artists. Other production workers, including those in IT and logistics, were successful in joining the Animation Guild, which “used to be just for artists,” says Allen. This could be an “interesting development” for VFX professionals, who are traditionally seen as craftsmen rather than artists.
“But individual workplaces have to agree with the union, it’s not automatic protection for all workers.”
One effects artist believes the onus is still on Marvel to make their own changes. There could be more training for their directors on the VFX process.
“Marvel directors are often inexperienced in the VFX process, both in the beginning and after,” said the effects artist.
If a director favors a longer time, it can “dramatically” increase the workload of the artists, Allen said. Not only are there more frames to create effects, but the longer the effect is on screen, the more accurate it needs to be. “Shorter shots mean you can cut a few corners.
Effects artist says Marvel needs to stop believing “VFX gives [it] infinite room for changing things. Rumor has it that Marvel needs to work with its directors to reduce the number of iterations in the VFX process. “With training – with a clearer and more ‘decisive’ visualization given to directors early in the process – everyone could be on the same page.
Then maybe their work wouldn’t come under fire during press tours.
Movies coming in 2022 from Marvel, Netflix, DC and more
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