No Oscar Love: Visual Effects Artists

I read Nicole Hendrix’s great blog post about the up and down past few weeks for Rhythm and Hues, the visual effects (VFX) company responsible for Life of Pi. On one hand, they won the Oscar for visual effects (Yay!); on the other hand, despite a history of Oscar-winning work, Rhythm and Hues has filed for bankruptcy, leaving more than 250 artists out of work.

Hendrix continues:

These people are artists. Their work is important. Just because it’s on a computer doesn’t mean that it’s outsourceable and devalued. It’s art and our films wouldn’t be the same without it.

This concept brings this topic closer to my area of expertise — namely, what “counts” as creativity?

I’ve done many studies and papers about creativity across multiple domains. Laypeople (and, frankly, many scholars) tend to have a artistic bias. When we ask people questions about creativity, we hear back all about drawing, music, creative writing, or film. We don’t hear a lot about science, business, teaching, engineering, or other non-artistic areas. This discrepancy is why so many people may think they’re not creative. If your creativity takes the form of computer programming or cooking or mathematics, then you might assume it’s not “really” being creative.

Creativity researchers tend to think this is a bunch of hogwash (if we’re feeling particularly cross, we may say poppycock).

VFX folks are caught in the middle. Their work is visual and artistic. Yet it is primarily done on a computer and then utilized by other people in more obviously creative fields (i.e., directors and actors). In addition, it is often seen as technical to the point of being an outsourceable commodity. If VFX artists are seen as occupying a lower rung on the creative ladder, then the story of Rhythm and Hues will become more common. Worse, it is emblematic of a larger issue — namely, creativity is undervalued if expressed in a less traditional way.

One Comment

  1. Being a vfx person, it’s sometimes difficult for me to understand that people do not see things like motion graphics or visual effects as being artistic. When I talk to people outside the industry, and surprisingly many people within the film industry, there exists a perception that, you push a few buttons, and out pops a dinosaur or a robot. It is true that it’s very technical work. Knowing a bit of programming, a bit of geometry and trigonometry are very useful in this field. The primary focus however is on artistry. That dinosaur or robot must be meticulously sculpted and painted just like anything outside of a computer. On top of it all, someone has to make that sculpture come alive! “creativity is undervalued if expressed in a less traditional way.” – sums up the problem pretty well.

    Also, if you truly want to know why VFX companies are closing at an alarming rate, look no further than the government subsidy. It’s not workers that are cheaper…it’s entire nations.

Leave a Comment

Awesome! You've decided to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated.

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>