7:23 pm - 02/25/2013

VFX Artist Writes Open Letter to Ang Lee


Dear Mr. Lee,

When asked about the bankruptcy of Rhythm + Hues, the visual effects house largely responsible for making your film “life of Pi” as incredible as it was, you said:

“I would like it to be cheaper and not a tough business [for VFX vendors]. It’s easy for me to say, but it’s very tough. It’s very hard for them to make money. The research and development is so expensive; that is a big burden for every house. They all have good times and hard times, and in the tough times, some may not [survive].”

I just want to point out that while, yes R&D can be expensive and yes it takes a lot of technology and computing power to create films like yours, it is not computer chips and hard drives that are costing you so very much money.  It is the artists that are helping you create your film.

So when you say  “I would like it to be cheaper,” as an artist I take that personally.   It took hundreds of hours from skilled artists and hard-working coordinators and producers to craft the environments and performances in life of Pi.  Not to mention the engineers that wrote all of that proprietary code and build the R+H pipeline.  That is where your money went.  I’d say, judging from the night you just had, you got one hell of a deal.

Incidentally, those were the same gorgeous sunsets and vistas that your DP Claudio Miranda took credit for without so much as a word of thanks to those artists. And the same animated performances that helped win you the best director statue.  Nice of you to mentionthe pool crew, but maybe you could have thanked the guys and gals who turned that pool in to an ocean and put a tiger in to that boat?

It was world class work, after all.  And after a fabulously insulting and dismissive introduction from the cast of the avengers, at least two of whom spent fully half of their film as a digitally animated character, R+H won for it’s work on your very fine piece of cinema. And just as the bankruptcy was about to be acknowledged on a nationally-televised platform, the speech was cut short.  By the Jaws theme.

If this was meant as a joke, we artists are not laughing.

Mr. Lee, I do believe that you are a thoughtful and brilliant man. And a gifted filmmaker. But I also believe that you and everyone in your tier of our business is fabulously ignorant to the pain and turmoil you are putting artists through.  Our employers scramble to chase illegal film subsidies across the globe at the behest of the film studios.  Those same subsidies raise overhead, distort the market, and cause wage stagnation in what are already trying economic times.  Your VFX are already cheaper than they should be.  It is disheartening to see how blissfully unaware of this fact you truly are.

By all accounts, R+H is a fantastic place to work; a truly great group of people who treat their employees with fairness and respect.  Much like Zoic Studios, the fabulous company that I am proud to work for. But I am beginning to wonder if these examples of decency will be able to survive in such a hostile environment.  Or if the horror stories of unpaid overtime and illegal employment practices will become the norm, all because you and your fellow filmmakers “would like it to be cheaper.”

I for one won’t stand for it.  Please join me.

Warmest regards and congratulations,
Phillip Broste
Lead Compositor


green__desire 26th-Feb-2013 02:00 am (UTC)
It's his EXACT mentality reflects that of the big wigs and that is WHY R&H is going under. It SHOULD NOT be the burden of the VFX studio being shorted when the movies they make make so much more in profit. The top people raking in the billions while refusing to pay artists for their time and over time they put in making their ridiculous deadlines. Quite frankly, the people who actually made the movie completely happen ALSO deserve to be paid well for their time and life time SKILLS.
maeir 26th-Feb-2013 02:26 am (UTC)
I don't think his mentality is wrong. I'm not familiar enough with this particular situation to talk about why and how R&H went under but I am certain that Ang Lee had little to do with that, especially given the fact that he sympathizes with their troubles and greatly respects the work they did on the film. Are you saying that R&H didn't get paid for the work they did on Life of Pi? If that's the case the producers and studio should be taken to task - if they did get paid (i'm inclined to believe that they did) and couldn't work out their own financial situation then... it's a shame but not much you can do about it.

If the VFX houses are being shorted by producers and studios then maybe they should ban together to make sure that in their contracts they get a cut of profits and are subsequently able to cover their costs. Of course that's a really idealized view considering how many VFX houses there are, across many different countries. Also, there are lots of movies that rely heavily on special effects and don't do well, and the people who work on those still get paid even if the studio and the producers lose money on the film.
green__desire 26th-Feb-2013 04:41 am (UTC)
They ARE trying to ban together but look at what happens when they do. They are mad at Ang because he did NOT defend them. Saying he wishes it was cheaper for the small studio, means he wishes artists got paid less, because it is absolutely not the technology thats the expense here its the labor. And no think again because they DO NOT GET PAID when the studio and producers loose money or even when they MAKE tons of money like Life of Pi did. THAT IS THE POINT. They just flat out refuse to pay artists for the over time they MUST put in to meet their ridiculous deadlines. There are plenty of VFX houses but that doesn't mean that they are all capable, if they keep farming it out to people willing to work for nothing, the work will suffer and so will the films. And yea no one is actually making any amazing story telling and most movies RELY on pretty effects to get anyone to watch them so that's the entire point. They have NOTHING with out the effects but seem to think that the artists are not worth paying.
maeir 26th-Feb-2013 06:15 am (UTC)
I disagree with you in regards to the intent and meaning behind Lee's words. I definitely don't think he's (to use another poster's words) "advocating for decreased wages for the artists" or even that they don't deserve more for the work that they do.

I understand that the industry has tried to unionize in the US but to little avail, which is sad imo.

R&H didn't pay 250 of it's employees, but that isn't on Ang Lee. It's not his place to speak on the company's financial situation. Even if he was in a position to do so, he wouldn't. In 45 seconds he was allotted for his speech he did not specifically give the company a shout out but did thank the entire cast and crew, something he repeated and specifically talked about those who worked on the VFX for the film in the winner's circle press Q&A. The guys responsible for the VFX, the ones who represented R&H at the Oscars didn't even manage to thank or acknowledge their own team as that one guy spent the entire time yammering on about his family and then got cut off (a pretty awful, tacky thing for the telecast to do but all nominees were warned that it would happen). It wasn't even in the forefront of his thoughts and it's a situation that directly affects him.

To call out ang lee, for what he said or didn't say or just didn't eloquently express, is ridiculous imo.
browniecakemix 26th-Feb-2013 07:05 pm (UTC)
R&H didn't pay 250 of its employees because, due to the industry practice of underbidding perpetuated by the people who make movies like Life Of Pi, they couldn't afford to. Are you deliberately being dense?
maeir 26th-Feb-2013 08:56 pm (UTC)

I just didn't know what the commenter was talking about when they said that people weren't getting paid for their work and originally assumed they meant industry-wide. I stated that fact because it was something I discovered after looking up a few articles on R&H and was then under the assumption that that was what they were referring to.
browniecakemix 26th-Feb-2013 11:45 pm (UTC)
I apologize for being rude, then. The thing is, I wouldn't be surprised if companies throughout the industry were doing things like R&H did there--because they simply don't have the money to pay their people because the studios consistently undervalue their work. What people like Ang Lee don't understand (and it's shameful that he doesn't understand this given that this is a huge sector of his industry, not to mention a sector without which he wouldn't have had a movie for which to win an Oscar on Sunday night) is that there is no R&D to cut because that makes for such an infinitesimal portion of the overall costs of VFX, the overwhelming bulk thereof being the cost of the actual manpower. I'm not sure if you've seen this analogy but it provides a pretty good summary of what's going on in the industry right now with regards to the underbidding crisis.
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