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VFX Artsy-Nerds or Invisible Stars?

I’m going to take some time tonight again away from video games, to blog again about the plight of the VFX and CG industry right after watching a friend and colleague, Bill Westenhofer get snubbed during the Academy Awards while making an acceptance speech. An obvious snub by the Academy when Bill was on the verge of talking about the plight of VFX studios who do not share in the profits of films that often make $500,000 dollars or a billion dollars. Yes, say it again, often these films make up to a billion dollars while the VFX studios flounder.

These films are Visual Effects extravaganzas. They are feasts and although we all love to see Robert Downey Jr, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman deliver the characters for these magical films, the magic (and there is a great deal of magic today – yes even in films like Australia but also The Golden Compass) is delivered by a host of artists who work long grueling hours under tight constraints to deliver beautiful shots. We create cities. We take you back in time. We make you believe that the world you are in is real. VFX artists are the invisible “Stars” of the films but never get a star credit or a star on the Hollywood walk of fame, or the star residuals and paycheck for just showing up.

Additionally, it isn’t just the artists themselves who put in long hours. What people often fail to see (and a big reason I left the industry) is that the artist’s entire family is there too. As Bill Westenhofer said, the family sacrifices too. No, they aren’t at the studio literally, they are in fact miles away. Wives and husbands taking care of children by themselves while their partners are engaged in making movie magic. Children get up and go to school but their VFX parent is usually already on the road (because let’s face it traffic in Los Angeles adds more hours to the daily grind), they are asleep when they VFX parent gets home. Seven day weeks during crunches means there may literally be months during the year when you rarely see your family. What one of us has not walked outside and realized whole seasons have passed while we worked in our cubicles to deliver the shots for these films.

The unsung support team for these films are not just the VFX artists but their entire families. They too are the invisible stars who slog through long days, temper tantrums with children and every other task that has to be taken care of. They sacrifice time with their parents, spouses, and significant others and not but a few relationships have suffered for the industry lifestyle.

Now did Bill Westenhofer get snubbed? How long did he speak? Bill spoke for 60 seconds before the Jaws theme started playing ominously chasing him off the stage. After all, he’s just a nerd, an artist, a freak like the rest of us in the midst of the Hollywood elite. (No Bill, I don’t really think that of you).

Bill’s Acceptance Speech: : Life of Pi : 60 seconds, chased off by the sharks.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=2845027860262&set=o.101905133283466&type=2&theater

Would anyone have dreamed of cutting off Natalie Portman for her acceptance speech? She spoke for close to three minutes, tearfully thanking people.

Natalie Portman : Acceptance Speech : Shy of 3 minutes.

What do I think? I think for starters the Academy has to cut the song and dance, let’s face it, it’s bullshit.

Can we review the scenes, and honor the artists without throwing a narcissistic back-slapping party for a select few yet again? Lets give the artists and nerds an extra 60 seconds, because we too have worked a lifetime to reach this achievement, and you know what we didn’t use steroids, get any plastic surgery, take EPO or get a multi-million dollar deal. Oh there is lots of free caffeine and sugar… and I can talk about how the industry in general encourages addictive behavior to pump out those shots, but I won’t talk about that sacrifice tonight. The sacrificing of health.

What else can the Academy do? Face the fact that without the stunning visual effects and the growing host of digital actors and creatures on film, these films wouldn’t get made. The Academy should recognize that the artists that are helping in no small way to create the industry instead of snubbing them. It’s like celebrating the king and queen of the prom and then doing something to embarrass the artsy/nerd, like you know cutting them off after sixty seconds.

The bottom line is that the artists deserve just as much screen time at the Academy awards for our hard work, ANYTHING ELSE IS A SNUB.

It’s having your head dunked in the toilet time, as evidenced by the Huffington Post, which claims that the Jaws theme was played because Bill went past his allotted time. Sixty seconds. True he went beyond that, but you know what? Bill actually had something important to say, the VFX industry is collapsing in this country, the bottom is falling out and going over seas due to tax incentives from other countries and tax incentives here to go out elsewhere. At Rhythm and Hues that meant over 250 jobs lost this month, but there have been others before like Digital Domain and The Orphanage who often gets forgotten in the list which goes on and on.

Bill represented all of us, even those of us who have left the industry behind because we could see how this was going all along. But Bill has stayed in there like many of you and you deserve your time on stage.

And yet, the Huffington Post thinks it was “awkward”. They didn’t see what really happened or bother to investigate what the average acceptance speech is… just that it was awkward, dunk…flush!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/24/jaws-oscars-life-of-pi-_n_2756380.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false

Apparently America is only interested in the “royalty” at these events, not the people behind the scenes that make all that magic possible. The fact that everyone commented on what the “Stars” were wearing and didn’t notice close to 500 visual effects artists protesting outside is a remarkable comment on the state of the industry, and the unconscious way we treat people in this country. It’s yet another terrible mirror to hold up for our children and aspiring artists and programmers. The idea is that if you are in the royalty, what you have to say is important, and if you’re not (which is frankly the rest of us) then we don’t want to really hear it and we’ll drown you out while thinking we’re being funny.

Ha ha, thanks, dunk-flush! Message received.

Charlize Theron : Acceptance for Monster : 2min 10 seconds

Ann Hathaway : Acceptance Speech : 2min 30 seconds

I’m sure I could go through youtube and add to this list of long speeches made at the Oscars, but I’m betting any of you could post dozens of long tearful speeches that never get less than the respect they deserve, as Bill Westenhofer, Rhythm and Hues and VFX should have received last night.

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