Visual Effects Artists Slam Marvel Studios’ Exploitative Practices
In a recent article for Vulture, journalist Chris Lee interviews a visual effects artist who has worked on Marvel movies and TV shows. Several threads on the r/VFX subreddit have been devoted to the topic, but have now been confirmed by a trusted source. Lee’s article is currently the most in-depth reporting on the working conditions of VFX artists on Hollywood tentpole productions, and addresses many concerns that have long been an open secret within the industry.
Concern 1: long hours
“When I worked on a film, it was almost six months of overtime every day. I was working seven days a week, an average of 64 hours a week on a good week. I had colleagues sitting next from me, bread down and started crying. I’ve had people having panic attacks on the phone.
Concern 2: Understaffed
“To get work, houses bid on a project; they are all trying to place themselves under each other’s bids. With Marvel, the offers will usually be a bit lower, and Marvel is happy with this relationship because it saves them money. But what ends up happening is that all Marvel projects tend to be understaffed. Where I would usually have a team of ten VFX artists on a non-Marvel movie, on a Marvel movie I had two including myself.
Concern 3: The outsized power of Marvel
“The studio has a lot of power over the effects houses, just because they have so many hit movies coming out one after another. If you bother Marvel in any way, chances are you won’t get these projects in the future. So the effects houses are trying to bend over backwards to keep Marvel happy.
“A visual effects house couldn’t complete the number of shots and reshoots Marvel requested in time, so Marvel had to give the job to my studio. Since then, that house has effectively been put on the list black for not getting a job from Marvel.
Concern 4: Constant changes, no time
“The other thing with Marvel is that they’re famous for asking for a lot of changes throughout the process. So you’re already overloaded with work, but then Marvel asks for regular changes way beyond what does any other client. And some of these changes are really major. Maybe a month or two before a movie comes out, Marvel will make us change the whole third act.
Concern 5: Inexperienced and/or absent filmmakers
“The main problem is that most Marvel directors aren’t used to working with visual effects. A lot of them just did little indies at the Sundance Film Festival and never worked with VFX. They don’t know not how to visualize something that’s not there yet, that’s not on set with them. So Marvel often starts asking for what we call ‘final renders’. While we’re working on a movie, we send some work in progress images that aren’t pretty but show where we are at. Marvel often asks for them to be delivered very early in a much higher quality, which takes a long time. Marvel does this because its directors don’t know how to look at the raw footage early on and make a judgement. But that’s how the industry has to work. You can’t show something super pretty when the basics are still being fleshed out.
“The other problem is that when we’re in post-production, we don’t have a cinematographer involved. So, we come up with the big time plans. This causes a lot of incongruities. A good example of what happens in these scenarios is the battle scene at the end of Black Panther. The physics are completely out of whack. Suddenly the characters are jumping around doing all these crazy moves like action figures in space. Suddenly the camera makes these movements that didn’t happen in the rest of the film. It’s all a bit cartoony. It broke the visual language of the film.