VFX Community Reacts to Ang Lee’s Oscar Speech

ang-lee-oscars-150

While the Oscar for best visual effects was handed out to the team at Rhythm & Hues for creating the astounding images for Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, the night proved to be a less than gratifying experience for those who toil away in the vfx trenches day and night. Oscar producers decided to drown out vfx supervisor Bill Westenhofer’s speech with that rude Jaws theme song interruption so that he couldn’t thank the team at the ill-fated visual effects studio which filed for bankruptcy this month.

Earlier on Sunday, about 400 protesters gathered outside the Dolby Theatre to bring awareness to Rhythm & Hues’ bankruptcy woes and to the need for unionization of the VFX industry. In February, over 250 employees of the house were fired without pay because of the company’s financial woes.

This lack of support for the visual effects industry was highlighted even more when Lee failed to mention R&H or the vfx team after he won the Best Director Oscar for Life of Pi. Many pointed out that his movie would not have been able to become such a huge financial or critical success without the contributions of the hardworking vfx team.

Zoic’s lead compositor Phillip Broste has written an excellent open letter to the director that was posted on vfxsoldier.com. Here’s an excerpt:

“When asked about the bankruptcy of Rhythm & Hues, the visual effects house largely responsible for making your film Life of Pi as incredible as it was, you said: “I would like it to be cheaper and not a tough business [for VFX vendors]. It’s easy for me to say, but it’s very tough. It’s very hard for them to make money. The research and development is so expensive; that is a big burden for every house. They all have good times and hard times, and in the tough times, some may not [survive].”

“I just want to point out that while, yes R&D can be expensive and yes it takes a lot of technology and computing power to create films like yours, it is not computer chips and hard drives that are costing you so very much money. It is the artists that are helping you create your film.”

“So when you say “I would like it to be cheaper,” as an artist I take that personally. It took hundreds of hours from skilled artists and hard-working coordinators and producers to craft the environments and performances in Life of Pi. Not to mention the engineers that wrote all of that proprietary code and build the R&H pipeline. That is where your money went. I’d say, judging from the night you just had, you got one hell of a deal.”

“Incidentally, those were the same gorgeous sunsets and vistas that your DP Claudio Miranda took credit for without so much as a word of thanks to those artists. And the same animated performances that helped win you the best director statue. Nice of you to mention the pool crew, but maybe you could have thanked the guys and gals who turned that pool in to an ocean and put a tiger into that boat?”

“It was world class work, after all. And after a fabulously insulting and dismissive introduction from the cast of the avengers, at least two of whom spent fully half of their film as a digitally animated character, R&H won for it’s work on your very fine piece of cinema. And just as the bankruptcy was about to be acknowledged on a nationally-televised platform, the speech was cut short. By the Jaws theme.”

“If this was meant as a joke, we artists are not laughing.”

“Mr. Lee, I do believe that you are a thoughtful and brilliant man. And a gifted filmmaker. But I also believe that you and everyone in your tier of our business is fabulously ignorant to the pain and turmoil you are putting artists through. Our employers scramble to chase illegal film subsidies across the globe at the behest of the film studios. Those same subsidies raise overhead, distort the market, and cause wage stagnation in what are already trying economic times. Your VFX are already cheaper than they should be. It is disheartening to see how blissfully unaware of this fact you truly are.”

“By all accounts, R&H is a fantastic place to work; a truly great group of people who treat their employees with fairness and respect. Much like Zoic Studios, the fabulous company that I am proud to work for. But I am beginning to wonder if these examples of decency will be able to survive in such a hostile environment. Or if the horror stories of unpaid overtime and illegal employment practices will become the norm, all because you and your fellow filmmakers “would like it to be cheaper.”

Critics were also not too pleased with the way Seth MacFarlane, the first big animation professional who hosted the Oscars, handled his duties. As gawker.com pointed out…

“At this point there’s no question that Seth MacFarlane was a terrible Oscar host. Not only were his jokes unfunny, tired, self-centered and boring, but also incredibly sexist, homophobic and racist. Boob jokes. Diet jokes. “No homo” jokes. Rape jokes. Abuse jokes. Slave jokes. Jew jokes. And to add to the atrocity, the whole act was punctuated by MacFarlane’s absurd preoccupation with whether or not he was a good host, which—as mentioned—he clearly was not. So perhaps he was right in asking “What did you expect?””

Ang Lee

Ang Lee

  • Angelicappearance

    Ang Lee should be ashamed of himself.  Maybe he should be cheaper, and not the VFX artists who put him up on that stand.

    • The bigger picture

      This is ridiculous. A director is a story teller, he uses amazing artist to help tell that story. He is the main boss. Ultimately he assembles a team he trust such as the dp, editor, actors, music etc. He worked closely with everyone of these talents to help tell this story,to make it emotional and compelling…even with the vfx houses. So to say that the vfx house alone put him on that stand is outrageous and you’ve discredited all of those ppl the very same way you believe Ang discredited you. Failure to mention the credit where it’s deserved.

      The problem has nothing to do with Angs speech. It’s business practices on both ends…film studios and fx shops.

      Let me ask you this…Is R&H bankrupt because of life of pi? The movie came out long before the bankruptcy. Something to think about.

      • xyz

        Life of Pi was probably part of the problem. A lot of studios go in at a loss as they start creating graphics for a movie so I’m sure Life of Pi was part of the problem. 

        And let’s face it, this entire movie was VFX based. The tiger, the water, the animals, the weather, the boat at points I’m sure, nearly everything. It’s not that we’re trying to take credit from other places, it’s just that when there is such an overwhelming amount of one element in a movie, it’s hard not to say that that element lead to its success and believability.  

        The problem does lie in Ang’s speech. He wants things to be “cheaper”, a dangerous mentality shared by a lot of studios and filmmakers and actors I’m sure. These people get the most attention and the most say, while those in the effects industry flounder just to try to make ends meet. It’s not fair. 

  • AllVFXartists.

    Ang Lee should be cheaper.

    • Leea

      You guys are lucky you’re even mentioned. What about focus pullers, grips, and gaffers?

      • Helenszone

        The dude who won for best cinematography should have thanked them. Bad show all round. But that’s Hollywood for you…

  • 123

    i dont understand the hostility directed at ang lee. not every director credits his vfx in the speech but nobody got their pants in a twist when this happened. i just think in the wake of rhythm and hues collapsing, people need someone to blame and as the director of film that happened to be at the time when this collapse happened i think this  is the reason everyone is using him as a scape goat. now im not defending mr lee. not at all. all i want to point out is, shouldnt people be using their efforts against the real villian here? hollywood execs and producers who budget and essentially bid out these contracts to various effects houses? arent they the real people that the vfx community should be rallying against? think bigger picture people. ang lee is just a small cog in the hollywood movie making machine. hes not responsible for the budget, its the film execs from fox and various other major companies that are to blame.

    • Mother

      Ang Lee was a producer on Life of Pi. He’s produced most of his movies. He is NOT just a small cog in the Hollywood movie making machine. He is indeed, one of the “hollywood execs and producers who budget and essentially bid out these contracts to various effects houses”.

      And, as you listened to his speech, he couldn’t care less about the artists in the VFX industry. He wants them to be even cheaper. His “movie” would have been nothing without the countless hours that Rhythm and Hues artists put in, and yet, not one word of acknowlegement.

      And while I am on a small rant here, it’s painfully obvious that Bill Westenhofer was going to thank his artists LAST, preferring to thank his kids first, for the sacrifices that THEY made for the film. He had his alotted time—he chose to thank pretty much everyone EXCEPT Rhythm & Hues artists.

      The two people that could have said something to bring awareness to what’s happening to the VFX industry—let’s face it, it’s all about the money—had nothing to say about the matter. Bill Westenhofer and Ang Lee walk away with their Oscars and jobs intact while some 250-300 former Rhythm and Hues artists are without a job, AND without money, because Rhythm never paid them their last paychecks. They are NOT “ex-employees” anymore—they are now CREDITORS.

    • Helenszone

       Not all directors thank the VFX team, no. But Life of Pi is a pecial effects film, And on a special effects film, you should make a point of thanking the special effects artists. No-brainer.

  • pikachu

    I thought he meant “cheaper” as in less expensive for VFX houses to run their operations (eg. R & D), not that he would like them to charge less money.

    • father

      no, he said it multiple times to R&H employees that the work was Expensive, but at least its expensive “art”.

  • theoattro

    While I agree that he basically pissed on the team that made his film possible, it is also true that R&H bid on this and CHOSE to sell the work way below what it actually cost! Maybe if they would bid correctly and maybe they dont get that contract, but they dont file bankruptcy either.  Sure you will loose a few but the VFX in those movies will be crap because of some bottom feeder company won the bid, but you will begin to get a reputation and get paid what your worth. Bigger is not always better!! R&H and the rest of the companies bidding on this work are the ones in control of how much to a certain degree and it would be nice to hear them admit some complicity in this situation.

    • http://silverimageservice.com/ Jrs

       The above letter shows so much ignorance that it is really difficult to know where to begin in refuting it.  You might just as easily say that the pre-Civil War slave population chose to be whipped and enslaved.
      Hollywood is high school with money.  It is an essentially conservative rigid culture with an equally rigid class structure.  Within that structure, visual effects has always occupied the position of bastard step child, and since moving into a digital environment, HATED bastard step child.  There is no shared culture, little shared language between the language of CGI and that of film making.  At best VFX artists are viewed as dial turning and button pushing technicians.  They are NOT viewed as artists.
      US houses set up some of their own difficulties by training staff in other countries who now compete against them, often with the help of governmental subsidies, or in the case of China, financial manipulation of their currency to keep the costs artificially low.
      The notion that R&H chose to knowingly bid at a loss is quite an assumption.  Visual effects always involves development, and that cost can’t be calculated exactly.  Film makers always want something new but studios budget as if everything is “tried and true”.  Effects houses get a “take it or leave it” flat deal.  And if the film maker decides that he or she wants something not in the original scope of work, that “class system” kicks in.  You don’t refuse, and often you don’t ask for money because you are invisible.  If you get uppity, the studio may not give you more work.  Budgets are tight.  Margins are razor thin.  As a business – from a pure money standpoint – it’s a lousy one to be in.  People do this work because it’s challenging and rewarding, occasionally creative, and they love being involved in storytelling.  In this day and age, the field should be a real moneymaker.  Films with significant effects are amongst the highest grossers.  But thanks to cultural discrimination in the Industry, these folks are left scraping by, working the plantation.

      • theoattro

        Jrs 

        So that we can define the level of ignorance that I bring to this discussion …. for a profession I design and project manage the development of custom software, usually with a team that includes programmers in places like Philippines, Russia, Tela viv, and the states. I have also produced a film that was completed, premiered, and achieved good distribution thru Phase 4. 

        Yes, I will agree LA is a tough town and to be successful in any level is at least 60% of knowing the right people! But this is also true in landing large sized custom development projects in any major city. 

        Yes, the industry has created some of its own problems in training and duplicating the business model in other countries!  But are we not all at least admitting that it is a bad business model to begin with? Not to mention when they did take R&H to Singapore …… Did you not see what happened to programmers a decade ago when India came on line strong? Did you think other countries wouldn’t create artificial incentives to receive that kind of IP influx? 

        Yes, VFX artists are artists! But they are also programmers!! And good programmers are worth good money and they also know exactly how much and at what quality  they can produce! if they don’t then they are not good programmers!!  

        So if this is true then as long as you understand “What” your going to build, you can bid within a margin of error!  

        Yes Hollywood has created a class system! Quit whining and playing the injured employee when you get fired, put on your big boy pants admit that you made some mistakes, and start playing the game like businessmen!  People and companies are getting producer co-producer credits, backend, and marketing dollar participation with film deals as long as they bring something valuable to the table! 

        Listen I understand, its COOL working on cutting edge projects!! But you have to admit that this desire to always do bleeding edge new cool I don’t understand it yet but I can learn while I do projects is NOT WORKING. 

        Play the game, develop a company that finds a script that requires VFX and bring it in-house, partner, co-produce! The options are there for a group of VFX artists to build a profitable and sustainable company!  The Gaming community has done it! The software community has done it! 

        Ohhh and plantation??  What does a good VFX artist make a year these days?? 

  • Dusty Wallace

    This is a bogus headline. I’m pretty sure the VFX Community doesn’t consist solely of one guy bitching on a website.

    • xyz

      Have you checked other websites? Have you seen the backlash? We’re pissed. 

  • Atg
  • Dyson

    The real problem here is that VFX houses have allowed this to happen over the years. (it was cool to have worked on Batman, Titanic, T2 etc…) The studios take advantage of their position (as they should).. There are only 6 major clients. Many VFX shops.. The truth is, it’s a money game.. Until VFX shops take a stand, and do not allow themselves to be abused. Then the cycle will continue. The indian and chinese studios are getting better. But who built them R&H helped, fuel its own competion. It’s opened shops in these regions, chasing the tax credits, but training their future competion. They are not the only ones.. ILM is present in Singapore, why ???

    I do think that Ang Lee should have seriously acknowledged the teams at R&H, they did after all, create an incredible co-star. Besides the amazing other VFX work. I do think that the Academy was really rude, and it did not slip past us, the jaws theme.. Really !!!!

    I really feel bad for the people at R&H.. But chasing projects for cash flows, is never going to be a sustainable business. One project, that gets derailed can and did bring the house of cards down.

    In the early days of VFX, the shops could charge for their craft. They had specialist tools and people. But as time has progressed, the playing field has become level. Just about anything can be done with off the shelf software. And as such the perception (not reality) is that VFX is a commodity.. And yes, you could create amazing oceans for a shot from your garage.. But, not at a scale that can deliver 500 shots, in shortened turn arounds.. This is where the numbers game kicks in. And the management of that is the true challenge. How to deliver on the volumes and still make money, while being played off against a similar size shop down the road.. 

    I think you get the point.

    This is a really complicated problem facing the industry, with so many levels. But, the solution starts with the VFX industry respecting itself. Draw a line in the sand. Organize !!

  • Cocomo

    This is a problem. But don’t pick on Ang Lee. He acknowledged how tough it is for the artists. Didn’t the letter writer mentioned that the crew of the avengers were dismissive and insulting? Why not addressing them? Also Ang Lee didn’t order the Jaws theme to be played on the speaker. The letter is a good call, but misdirected. 

  • xyz

    Hey Mister Ang Lee, you want vfx to be cheaper? You know what makes them REALLY cheap? Don’t have them in your movie. Then see how successful you are or how many people want to go see your movies. There’s a standard that’s expected today when people go see a movie. People want new interesting immersive worlds. They want characters that seem so real they wonder if there’s an actor under the suit. They want their belief suspended so much so that they convince themselves on some level that somewhere this world that was created COULD exsist. 

    Ang Lee owes his ENTIRE movie to the VFX industry. Ang Lee owes his entire success to those people who probably worked overtime with no pay and revised shots and revised shots on a whim because ‘oh it’s so easy, the computer does half the work’.  

    I am so tired of the VFX industry or the CG industry getting overlooked. Shit needs to change. These people have to learn some respect for the people who help them win awards and make them tons of money. IF YOU’RE MOVIE IS MAKING BIG MONEY, SHARE IT OR YOU WON’T HAVE THE ARTISTS AROUND TO MAKE MORE OF THE BIG MONEY MOVIES TO MAKE BIG MONEY OFF OF.

  • Big D

    Ang’s neglect to thank the VFX team is definitely unfortunate and hurtful, but it’s also not fair to be spitting acid at him for it.  People are often given flack or express regret themselves for forgetting to thank people.  How many parents and spouses have been forgotten in acceptance speeches?  How many producers, actors, writers and even directors during other categories?  The fact that his film coincided with the collapse of R&H just adds salt to the wound.  Be hurt by Ang’s neglect and make your voice heard if you want but don’t lose perspective, Ang’s speech isn’t the reason the company’s bankrupt.  If he refuses to acknowledge the oversight in the wake of this reaction then that’s when it’s time for mudslinging.

    It sucks the VFX team’s speech was cut short but it sucks when every speech is cut short, it happens every year.  Maybe the Avengers cast could have given more respect to the VFX award, but maybe every presenter of every category of ever Oscar telecast ever could have given more respect to their respective award.  After all, they’re just reading from a teleprompter and it’s always joke laden.

    And on a side note, whether you liked Seth’s hosting or not, what the hell does that have to do with VFX, Ang’s speech, Jaws music, Life of Pi, Rhythm and Hues, Avengers or presenting?

  • Bakshi-Babe

    Ang Lee would have hired another FX company, if he didn’t hire R&H. They would have made the some tiger and the cinematographer would have told them to make the same sunsets.

    R&H probably should have got paid double, but they said they would do it for less. R&H made a horrible business decision. It has nothing to do with the artists at R&H or Ang Lee and his Oscar. The artists saw this coming crash coming ant that’s why the ones that were talented enough left for Dreamworks or other places as soon as they could.

    • Elmo

       This response is highly ignorant. First off, very few studios are as well versed as R&H in CG animals. Ang Lee couldn’t have hired any other company and expect to get the same results. Among visual effects artists, that tiger is widely considered to be a milestone in CG beasts. And without that quality, it would not have won an Oscar for VFX.

      Second, R&H was not done in by a single decision to take Life of Pi for less money. It was ruined with the help of an unfortunate smattering of down time, in which the artists continued to be paid despite little to no work coming in. It’s easy to say they shouldn’t do it for less, but running a VFX house is complicated. It is, in fact, a business. A really, really competitive business.

      When you are desperate for work and Ang Lee comes to ask you to bid for the effects on his movie, any businessperson who is not a complete idiot is indeed going to bid low to ensure they grab that movie. And Ang Lee has made it clear in his interviews that he cares more for the price of the effects than the studio’s ability to produce something groundbreaking, despite that being the exact reason he holds one more Oscar.

  • Clare

    R&H,
    you guys are amazing. Without the efforts from your team, the Life of
    Pi can not be a popular and fantastic movie.
    Hope
    you are able to overcome the difficult financial situation. Clare

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002329244041 Zid E Istemar

    Capitalism, sexism, racism, etc all rolled into one and you get Hollywood and the Oscars. Why so shocked??

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  • axup

    Andy Lee what a d*ck. He took the#1 biggest book of 2009 and outsourced an fx company to follow that script and somehow he thinks himself a generous. Hope he can’t get another decent fx company to work for him again then see what rubbish he rolls out. Any Lee YOU should be paid less!