UPDATE, 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.)
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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: