Three years ago, Marvel Studios brought the release date of Avengers: Infinity War up for a week. Fans celebrated at the prospect of being able to see the film sooner, but those who worked on its visual effects felt their hearts sink.
In a damning story published by io9 (just the latest in a series of similar stories from Vulture, The Guardian, Deserterand as recounted in this viral Reddit thread), sources from across the Hollywood VFX industry talk about how ruthless the blockbuster business has become. io9The sourcing includes VFX artists who have worked on some of the biggest movies ever made.
Generally speaking, the systemic problems boil down to nearly all the power leaning towards the studios, which request complicated and expensive edits over VFX at a faster rate than the work can be done.
There is no solution, other than the visual effects industry unionizing. Y to magically force greedy studios not to have to release a dozen superhero movies and shows every financial quarter. (They do this because promising new, must-have content every three months seems to be an integral part of Disney’s strategy to ensure exponential subscriber growth for Disney+.)
io9The story of Illuminates the question of why these movies have to be so big in the first place. With the recent cancellation of Warner Bros. Discovery’s nearly $90 million Bat girl on the grounds that it was too expensive for HBO Max but not big enough to warrant a theatrical release, there should be a deep cultural and philosophical reappraisal of what constitutes a “great” movie. Because, once upon a time, the great films weren’t so great and the world kept turning.
First, a closer look at the problem: as described by a VFX professional io9, it’s a “race to the bottom” as VFX studios, contracted independently by larger studios like Marvel, outbid potential customers to win a major movie deal. Local tax incentives, which depend on where the work is done (io9 has some paragraphs highlighting the UK) can lower the price even further, even if the price paid doesn’t actually cover the job.
The resulting effects include a VFX studio operating on thin profit margins, if any, at all, with VFX artists bearing the brunt. In addition to being overworked and underpaid, VFX artists describe intense micromanagement; they call it being “pixel-f*cked”.
Marvel’s army of producers and executives often make decisions beyond the directors, leaving customers to operate with a muddled view of the film. As a result, it’s not uncommon for VFX minute edits to be requested very close to a movie’s release. (io9 describes the visual effects of the 2016 film doctor strange remaining unfinished for release in locations outside of the US)
io9′The story includes anecdotes from VFX professionals who paint a picture of a horribly unstable and sick industry. Sources recall “fist fights,” long hours without seeing family, employees reaching a “breaking point,” and the prevalence of “weeping rooms.”
“Almost every studio has some kind of cry room where people go in and cry for ten minutes and then come back out and do their work,” a source said. io9.
io9 predominantly Marvel names, due to the popularity and large number of projects that are in development at any given time from the studio. It’s not the only studio exploiting VFX workers, but one source on io9 describes the contrast of fans buzzing around Marvel’s Phase 5 slate with the reality of making it come to life. “You look at all these timelines for the movies and you just think… It will never stop. The workload gets agonizing sometimes… We’re all sick of superheroes.”
There are a variety of reasons why studios like Marvel feel the need to make their movies look and feel great. It must be said that complex VFX work isn’t always about superhero powers and big action set pieces; a lot of Marvel’s VFX work is just making Atlanta look like New York City. But as the business and artistic dynamics of Hollywood movies have evolved, they have altered what drives people to pay to see movies or, alternatively, stay home and stream content on their tablets.
Blockbusters have always been a show in the background. The 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz a complex film with elaborate costuming, production design, choreography, and its innovative use of Technicolor was famous. 20 years later, Ben Hur it had giant sets that required 10,000 extras and 2,500 horses. Both films amassed critical acclaim and commercial success (although Wizard of Oz it took time), demonstrating that spectacle and artistic reverence are not mutually exclusive. Even before superheroes, Hollywood knew the appeal of “big” movies.
But not all great movies have to be, you know, great. it is just a mainly correct assumption that the audience will pay for an escapist piece that requires impossible physics and all sorts of colors and sounds. But once upon a time, the public did not flock to single that movie’s
Mid-budget original films were once the heart of Hollywood studio schedules. They used to rule the theaters; Ghost Y Pretty Womanfor example, they were the highest grossing movies of 1990. While this would change just five years later, the highest grossing movies of 1995 were a superhero movie, batman foreverand complex drama apollo 13, based on NASA mission: There is still interest in mid-budget movies, many of which have found a home on streaming services and Video On Demand.
Recent hits like Everything everywhere at once, where the locusts singY Nope – all of which have varying degrees of VFX work but are deliberate in vision and execution – they have performed well in theaters, despite factors such as economic inflation and the dominance of the IP industry.
Superhero movies can learn a thing or two from what’s still making money in theaters. While the default setting for Marvel and DC is to use a capital B, leading studios also need to know when to adjust the story. Not all movies need to end with maximum impact. As genre fatigue begins to set in, there’s more demand than ever for a new, and perhaps older, type of film.