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Riveting New Short Exposes The Ugly Truth Plaguing Hollywood’s Film Industry
By Yoon Sann Wong, 19 Apr 2017
“The saint that is not seen, is the saint that no one will adore.” – Mariana Acuña Acosta, former visual effects artist
You’ve seen the captivating visual effects of myriad Hollywood films, from James Cameron’s Avatar to Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. What you probably don’t know is the ugly truth behind these computer-generated graphics.
In this new riveting short film produced by Sohail Al-Jamea and Ali Rizvi, Hollywood’s Greatest Trick gets exposed along with its not-so-pleasant details about the treatment of VFX artists in the motion picture industry. Al-Jamea writes inside the video’s description:
“Visual effects artists are responsible for some of the most iconic moments in movie history. The top 10 highest grossing films of 2016 all contained computer generated imagery. But while Hollywood’s profits grow, visual effects artists struggle for fair pay, representation and recognition beyond the most prestigious award in film — an Oscar.”
Various VFX artists are interviewed inside this exposé, including Mariana Acuña Acosta, who explains, “With Stuart Little it was something like 20 visual effects shots, and now in Captain America it’s like 2,500 shots...so you can’t shove more visual effects shots in a movie. Basically now it’s gotten to a point where every shot is a visual effects shot.”
The growing popularity of VFX in motion pictures would have many believe that it’s a moneymaking machine. But that’s far from the truth. Scott Ross, former visual effects executive from Digital Domain and ILM, cites Gravity–in which 80% of the movie was animated by Framestore–as a prime example.
“It’s not the performance of Sandra Bullock and it’s not the performance of George Clooney, what made the movie so popular was the cinematic experience of the way the director directed the film.”
“A single individual in the movie, who often times wasn’t even there, because she was animated, made $62 million. Now I haven’t seen the Framestore bottom line for that movie, but I have seen some of their financials…Framestore does not make money.”
Why then are so many VFX companies filing for bankruptcy? The documentary explains that one major reason is the business model. It uses a burger joint to illustrate this point. The client pays a fixed sum for a “burger”, that is the visual effects, but after this “burger” has been made, the client suddenly has a change of heart and decides he wants a “lasagna” instead, or maybe “chicken with noodles”–but wait, the client likes the “noodles” but wants “chicken” replaced with “meatballs”–all the while still only paying that one fixed price.
These numerous changes–something creatives from other industries can easily relate to–cost time and money, which brings the audience to another related point.
That’s right–the industry jargon that’s used to refer to the situation where the VFX artist is working on an animation but there’s one particular thing that the director, or some other colleague, focuses on. Now the VFX artist might feel like there is no way anyone is going to notice this particular element in the movie, but he or she is obligated to make the alteration anyway.
One example given by Ross is none other than the legendary Titanic. While working on the scene where the ship leaves the harbor, James Cameron comments to the VFX artist that the seagulls just don’t look quite right. The VFX artist assures Cameron that the birds have been meticulously produced to scale. That’s when Cameron replies, “That’s because you were looking at the Pacific seagull…now your North Atlantic seagull…is bigger.” The fact that all these iterations can be done in the digital world is a problem, says Ross, because that’s going to be another day of work and that costs money.
By now you must be thinking, so why do people still want to become VFX artists? Well the answer, as cliché as it sounds, is passion. Acosta reveals, “I used to love it with all my heart.” Daniel Lay, blogger from VFX Soldier adds, “It’s one thing to love what you do but if it doesn’t love you back, it’s probably not worth doing.”
Watch the compelling disclosure film below. The next time you catch a motion picture with visual effects, you’ll know what it took to bring the animation to life. To find out more in-depth details about this topic, click here.
[via Sohail Al-Jamea, images via video screenshot]
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