OSCARS: 'Life Of Pi' VFX Winner Played Off While Thanking Bankrupt Rhythm & Hues

Oscars Ang LeeUPDATE, 9:50 PM: After winning the Oscar for Best Director, Ang Lee addressed the financial woes that struck his Life Of Pi VFX collaborators at Rhythm & Hues. “It’s bad news that visual effects are too expensive and I’m aware of Rhythm & Hues’ (situation)”, he said, noting that VFX artists are “more than just technicians”.

PREVIOUSLY, 9:13 PM: The Jaws theme struck less than a minute into VFX supervisor Bill Westenhofer’s Life Of Pi Oscar acceptance speech. The ominous play-off tune played for a full 20 seconds as Westenhofer thanked director Ang Lee and began addressing the crisis plaguing the VFX industry. Poor Westenhofer was just starting to acknowledge the recently bankrupted Rhythm & Hues VFX studio, whose employees staged a protest at Hollywood and Vine earlier in the day that gathered over 400 marchers. “Sadly, Rhythm & Hues is suffering severe financial difficulties right now”, he managed to spit out before becoming the first winner of the 85th Academy Awards interrupted by play-off music. (Meanwhile, Best Documentary Oscar winner Malik Bendjelloul got the Jaws hook, too.)

RELATED: VFX Oscar Protesters Grow To 400 As Pros Plead Their Case

Backstage in the winners’ room, Westenhofer got to finish. “What I was trying to say up there”, Westenhofer began, “is that it’s ironic that when visual effects are dominating the box office, visual effects are struggling… we’re artists, and if we don’t fix the business model we may lose something”. Earlier in the day hundreds of VFX professionals including current and former employees of Rhythm & Hues staged a mass protest blocks away from the Dolby Theatre. They wielded homemade signs and chanted slogans hoping to bring Oscar night attention to the plight of the workers who, after contributing to Life Of Pi‘s Oscar-winning effects, were laid off en masse last month before the company filed for Chapter 11. A banner reading “BOXOFFICE + BANKRUPT = VISUAL EFFECTS VFXUNION.COM” flew in the skies over the Oscars red carpet prior to the telecast.

Watch Westenhofer’s interrupted Oscars acceptance speech:

  1. Terrible and rude when they cut short a person’s moment but they’ll have endless, unfunny drivel and lame musical numbers clogging up the works.

    1. moe, totally agree with your point…the craftsmen are secondary. I would add that, without the efx work/ shots in Pi. It’s a pointless attempt at storytelling. The first and third acts are gawd awful, on the nose ‘let us tell you, literally , in ‘on the nose’ nausiating detail what this movies about, ’cause we don’t know squat about structure or real character developement… wherin the story would unfold naturally. What happened to the Hyena and the Orangutan? Meaningless, moving props. How did the hero (quote unquote) actually make a ‘please leave the skin on my bones’ pact with the tiger.
      I love well crafted and properly placed efx, and I respect the craftsmen who build them, but they must be integral to the primary focus of a well told story. So much for my morning rant.

  2. Westenhofer went on thanking HIS family and those HE cared about while the other three sat back and watched and we’re supposed to be shocked Rhythm & Hues got the same treatment?

  3. So fucking rude to cut off an Oscar winner during their acceptance speech… especially when it hasn’t gone very long.

  4. Could’ve been such a great statement on behalf of Rhythm and Hues and its laid-off workers… the effects house could really use the support

  5. True! Winning an Oscar is a once in a lifetime thing, Westenhofer talked and talked and thanked and thanked those close to him, but I was screaming “Give the other three a chance to speeeak!!!!”

  6. How awesome and ironic that these poor union workers were played off by the union musicians of Local 47 (AFM). Nice solidarity

  7. When there are multiple people your group is supposed to appoint 1 person to speak. Exception is best picture producers.

  8. Too expensive???? Ang Lee is a buffoon! The vfx houses are under bidding as it is! Compared to how much a movie like Pi makes, vfx budget is a drop in the ocean.

  9. Then why not get to the point more quickly.

    Also I don’t claim to understand the woes of that company or the vfx industry but it is not like the vfx business is going away. Someone will be doing them for the same money or more money. As a business person my first thought is that it is a business management problem.

    If they are not getting paid enough for the work they do to stay in business whose fault is that? Ultimately the producers and studios will pay someone something to vfx so I am not clear on how this is some sort of plague.

    I especially don’t know how the winners choice of order of speech is the Oscar telecasts fault. Certainly winning the award will give them a platform to discuss their issues. Companies usually go bankrupt when obligations greatly exceed assets. At the core this is a business management issue. If they took on projects that they did not get paid enough to do or ran up costs doing who is to blame?

    If vfx firms find themselves always signing contracts where they bring in less money than they spend perhaps there needs to be fewer vfx companies. If we are going to lay blame on producers and the studios should they be punished because there are apparently too many vfx houses so they are accepting payments below their own costs.

    Also I suspect if I tried I could find some video fx firms doing really well.

    My question is what is the REAL problem? It is not just payment for services are too low as that is a self correcting problem in any marketplace.

    So is it that vfx houses are poorly run? Is it that there are too many of them and that they undercut each other just so they can keep their doors open? Just doing good work is not all that is needed to run a viable business.

    1. You clearly are uneducated on the financial problems facing the VFX industry. I suggest you do your research before making comments that you think are the problems or solutions but have missed the mark on whats really going on.

    2. So you admit you don’t know anything about the VFX field…? It’s like you’re answering your own ignorant question.

    3. Seriously? For someone who doesn’t know anything about the industry, Aeiouy’s comment is
      just plain idiotic. It’s like saying the VFX companies are in trouble because they underbid projects and should just ask for more money? That’s not mismanagement, it’s survival.
      There is a reason these big VFX films make a fortune while the below the line people barely get by or not at all. It’s the greed of the studios. The industry should be embarrassed.

    4. This is seriously disgusting. Such a long comment, worth nothing!! No one ever thought giving huge amounts to lead actors was costly! Then why is VFX costly? How many movies these days can go onscreen without VFX? Respect the artists, we don’t just do a copy paste business, things are being created beyond imagination. On behalf of industry, I ‘request’ you to get an idea about things around, before making such comments! We work with passion but doesn’t mean they can exploit us! Yes ,its not mismanagement, its survival.

    5. No those artists wont get paid. They were laid off and the company filed bankruptcy which means.. no one got paid and no one has to get paid. That’s how bankruptcy works… they have no money.
      You go look up that opinion of yours and post a few vfx studios doing “really well”. Your not going to find anyone telling anyone else they are doing really well in any vfx department.

  10. Not sure how unionizing the workforce of businesses that already can’t stay afloat will help.

    In fact if vfx workers are trying to unionize in the face of their employers going bankrupt I don’t see things getting better any time soon.

    1. Ahh.. foolish.. foolish.. little kid..
      Why do you pretend to know what you are talking about and post comments..
      Do you know how market forces work?
      Apart from you nonsensically long rant.. Lemme try and break it down to you..
      Unions are not “against” any entity..
      They are there to protect the artists..
      Once artists are on board.. They can ask for terms safeguarding them.. This automatically raises and protects the artists everywhere as it creates a standard..
      And this cost automatically will be put across to the studios.. In turn earning the vfx house bigger shares of the profit..
      This is jsut one explanation.. There are plenty mor advantages.. Which i’m sure someone here will be glad to enlighten you on..

  11. The guy thanked his gardener and dog walker before he got to the artists that are unemployed… if he really felt strongly about it he would have bumped it up before thanking the nanny bus to the west side…puhlease!

    1. Totally agree! It was shameful that the real issue of the night was not put front and center in his speech. Anyone who has watched the Oscars knows that if you have a message you have to lead with it.

    2. Westenhofer is an extremely talented visual effects supervisor, he supervised and inspired hundreds of artist work on Life of Pi. He should enjoy the moment and have the opportunity to thank who he wants with out being criticized.

  12. I thought this huge advanced CGI/VFx industry was supposed to be a continually, increasing lower cost technology to begin with? As the tech advances in our digi world; the software becomes cheaper to use; less people to involve with? I don’t understand why there are huge VFX houses with many, many employees to begin with. Are you trying to tell me in the LIFE PF PI…it took hundred of techs to do all those CGI spots? I don’t believe that at all; not with the work me and my buddies are doing solo with the same, exact software VFX houses uses. I know it’s really about the broken an dying business model HWD still uses; with all these middle man businesses who made millions off of “film”; that they just don’t want to let go of. If the same, exact effects can be done on software anyone with the right training can buy for under 1 k and use just as efficiently, then all these businesses going under are bad business owners to begin with and greedy.

    1. You are completely ignorant of the industry and the dire situation it faces in its current state. That, or don’t understand the entire process for these big budget films. Yes, it can take several hundred people to create VFX for a film. The majority of Life of Pi IS VFX!! I can go on and on where costs go to and the reason they are suffering, but I’ll just give a few examples. The cost for R&D as technology advances so do the studios push for realism and new techniques. Government subsidies from other countries are creating a nose-dive in job creation here while forcing the creative studios to lose money to stay afloat between films. And in many cases if they jobs are kept in the US, the big hollywood studios are forcing the VFX companies to THEM the subsidy that would’ve gone to another country so they can have the job so off the bat they’re in a hole. The highest grossing films for 2012 were vfx driven, yet little of the money goes to the studios/artists that spend hours on end creating the work.

    2. First of all, the people creating the VFX on Pi were not “techs”. They are artists. And the fact that you used that term demonstrates that you are completely ignorant on the subject. The amazing visuals in a movie like Pi, or The Avengers, or The Hobbit aren’t created by hardware, software, or “technicians”. These effects are not created by random people who are taught how to push buttons in software at trade schools. They are created by artists with a unique talent that is as rare and special as the talent of the writers, directors, and cinematographers of these movies. Yes, it takes hundreds of artists. Because there are thousands of shots in a movie like Pi, and some of these shots may have taken six months or a year or more to complete.

      You and your buddies, playing around with some software in your spare time, are not going to be able to create a photo-realistic tiger that can carry a movie to an Oscar win. Nor are you going to be able to create Gollum or Iron Man. Or, prove me wrong. Post a video to your demo reel on youtube or vimeo. If your work is as good as the work in any of the Oscar nominated films this year, I’ll give you a job.

      1. Well It may be able to be done but compared to the hundreds working on a movie two people working to make a piece like that, it would take them… oh maybe a few years longer give or take, as long as they are working on it everyday (including weekends). 120+ hour work week should do it? I’d love to see this…

    3. So you’re making photorealistic tigers in 3D, eh. You’ve got that subsurface scattering thing licked? In 3D? Blending CG water with real water in 3D? Let’s see your clip reel. Owning a Panavision camera doesn’t make me Martin Scorcese.

    4. Hey, MARK GEORGEFF, you haven’t posted a link to your demo reel yet to show us all those great effects you and your buddies are doing with under $1K software. What’s the holdup? The VFX industry needs you to educate us about how its done. Come on, put your money where you mouth is.

      Yeah, I thought so.

    5. My heart goes out to all those that lost their jobs and didn’t get paid. I had friends at R&H and several other companies that are in rough times or have closed their doors and just hope that soon we can make some changes and get back to (paid) work…

  13. From all these comments, it’s clear that so many in the business don’t understand what’s going on. Visual Effects companies are being squeezed by studios to do their work for less and less and to compete with Chinese and Indian labor rates. Clearly that won’t work as the cost of living in the States won’t allow for rates that are well below minimum wage. American VFX companies also pay for software that Chinese companies openly pirate. If American studios are allowed to continue to send their VFX dollars overseas to these VFX sweatshops then the plight of the American VFX company and artist is sealed. Unionization will do NOTHING, except hasten what is already happening.

    We did nothing when the studios wanted to get cheaper labor and tax credits in Canada years ago, we shouldn’t be surprised that it has gotten to this point. The business starts here, we need to force the studios economically to keep it here or it will be just like manufacturing in this country.

    VFX Company President

  14. why didn’t he let the other winners talk? why didn’t he talk about R&H first? Ahhh! it’s not just “His” moment. irks me.

  15. Hi. I am a senior compositor from India. Believe me we never want to take away jobs from the US. I did not get into this field just to earn money. I went into compositing because I really found it interesting and am very passionate about my work. But most of the work done on local movies is just blase and we just get mindless jobs like roto from the US so really we are not taking away your jobs, we are just doing the back-breaking work you may not want to do :(

    Also it is my dream to work on great movies. I do not want to come and live in your country forever but it would be nice to work on some really good dream projects for a short while but I can’t. Because I am an Indian, no one will hire me. So is it a given that only Americans are passionate about VFX? We are too. We too deserve to be trusted enough to do the ‘real’ work and not just sweatshop labor.

    And we work on in the hope that one day we shall get to realize the dream that we saw before we stepped into this field.

    1. As a matter of fact, Sudha, you DID take away my job. I used to do a lot of roto at the house I work for, and didn’t care how “mindless” it was because it was WORK and kept me employed.

      Now, most of our roto is being sent out to India and I’m enjoying an involuntary, unpaid furlough.

      I have little doubt that, the way this industry is going, the “real” work that I do will also soon be shipped out to India, China, and God knows where else, and my own “dream” of keeping food on the table will fall farther out of reach.

      And after the gutting of the American VFX industry is complete, the studios will find slave labor in some hellhole country that will work for even less than you do and then the cycle will start all over again.

  16. Oh yes, one more thing that I forgot to mention. At least in your country, your protest was acknowledged by the media. In my country, they did not even consider us news. We are nobodys here. Damn ! I am leaving this field! Feeling super depressed now !

  17. The laid-off workers should start their own company. If they have a better business model, then they’ll be successful. That’s the way that it works.

    1. Hey Max, the problem here is that “laid off workers” cant instantly hav entire infrastructure (rendering facilities, specialized proprietery softwares etc.) that a well established VFX house will provide and major chunk of VFX today needs sharper,newer,faster and CHEAPER technologies.

  18. I do support unionizing. I was here long enough to see the editing union finally open up in the 80s and mop up all the non-union talent that was competing for union work – it really helped the situation for everyone. I think the VFX people should choose an existing union and petition to join that union – the editors are probably the logical choice, since we deal with the VFX people as part of our department.

    I’ve watched a lot of VFX and animation go overseas, and one thing I can say is: producers would really rather not use overseas talent if possible – it’s hard to supervise it, and it’s slower to fix a problem. If overseas subsidies are part of the problem, then organize and lobby the powers-that-be to follow suit here, such as subsidizing hardware & software, facilities, etc. hey, if it’s good enough for the oil & gas & agribusiness….? I mean, entertainment is one of the last export industries we have anymore!

  19. I think if every true American would just send one dollar to bankrupt Rythmn and Hues we could save a piece of American Pi.

  20. Seeing Nicole Kidman clearly mouthing the words “poor thing” right at the end there, says it all. She means well, but there really isn’t the appreciation that VFX artist are a legitimate part of the ‘Art’ of making movies. We’re seen as a bunch of geeks pushing buttons… nothing could be further from the truth.

    There is no “Animate” button. There is no “Light my scene” button. There is no “make alien landscape indistinguishable from reality” or ” age Brad Pitt Fifty Years” button.

    VFX is now integral to how a movie looks, and to the worlds the characters inhabit.

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