Saturday, 8 March 2014

Life After Pi

Life After Pi is an excellent documentary about the troubled state of the Hollywood visual effects (VFX) industry.

I've been hearing rumblings about the situation for some years now, but it seems that the movie The Life of Pi has become a flashpoint for the issue. The project crushed the 25 year veteran VFX studio Rhythm & Hues to the point where they filed for bankruptcy. VFX campaigners tried to raise awareness about the issues their industry faces when it became clear Life of Pi was destined for critical success. However, the Hollywood studio engine attempted to stifle the bad press, but some clumsy decisions only inflamed tensions. And now the VFX industry is really pissed off.

The irony is that Hollywood now relies massively on VFX for its revenue. The main cash-cow blockbusters, arguably vacuous and predictable, now demand ever more sophisticated and voluminous CGI. However, for reasons outlined in the documentary, they've been able to drive down price to the point where the US VFX industry is crumbling.

Although excellent, I do feel the documentary fails to address the question of why the VFX industry doesn't unionise (further) or go on strike. I am supposing that they fear the work will go entirely overseas to foreign contractors.

Being a big fan of the craft of effects, from Harryhausen stop motion to the wonder years of physical effects in the 80s, I am sad to see the North American industry in such poor shape. I do wonder how it's going to pan out.

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