Remember the movie Life of Pi? The one with the amazing allegory about what a person can do to survive? Remember the incredible special effects?
Very few people know the story behind the visual effects (VFX) studio that did the incredible work on the film. Rhythm & Hues won an Academy Award for their work on Life of Pi. They won that award eleven days after having to declare bankruptcy. This is the story that few people know about, and it’s more tragic than the story of Pi. Why? Because hundreds of workers who have been breathing life into movies for 25 years, their families, and those who depended on them suddenly found themselves unemployed right at the moment they reached the pinnacle of their talent.
Why is this? Because the special effects industry is hopelessly broken right now according to the documentary Life After Pi. In the American film industry six studios currently wield incredible power and influence over the industry, playing VFX studios against one another, plying cities for subsidies which squashes competition, and paying these effects studios a pitance for their contribution to film. In the case of Life of Pi perhaps 80% of the movie is CGI . . . Life of Pi grossed $609 million.
This work isn’t being done by lifeless computers in a chilled server farm somewhere. It’s being done by living, breathing humans who have a passion for what they do, and who put in incredible hours to meet deadlines imposed by the studios. If those deadlines slip, or more work is piled on, the studio usually has to fulfill the work under the original contract, destroying what little profit a studio might have made.
If you want to find out what happened to Rhythm & Hues, and how busted the special effects industry is, please watch the 30 minute documentary Life After Pi which is embedded below.