In a seemingly inevitable move given their employers’ notorious reputation for running the unit ragged in service of milking the franchise with visually noisy release after visually noisy release, Marvel Studios’ visual effects team has unanimously voted to take a stand against their overbearing bosses and unionize under the wider banner of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
This decision was first announced on September 12th and followed as a result of a unit-wide open vote in which every ballot cast was in favor of unionizing with the IATSE.
In a statement provided to Variety, IATSE VFX organizer Mark Patch explained, “Today, VFX workers at Marvel Studios spoke with a unanimous, collective voice, demanding fair pay for the hours they work, healthcare, a safe and sustainable working environment, and respect for the work they do.”
“There could be no stronger statement highlighting the overwhelming need for us to continue our work and bring union protections and standards to all VFX workers across the industry,” he added. “And there could be no stronger example of the courage and solidarity of these workers than each and every one of them declaring ‘union YES!’”
Likewise, IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb declared, “Today’s count demonstrates the unprecedented demand for unionization across new sectors of the entertainment industry is very real,” IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb said. “To these VFX workers, I congratulate you on your historic victory. Your bravery, determination, and unity are a beacon for workers not just in VFX, not just in entertainment, but workers in every industry across this country and beyond. You will enter negotiations with Marvel and Disney with the full backing and support of our 170,000 strong alliance. Your fight is our fight.”
One of the unionizing Marvel members, studio VFX coordinator Thomas Barnard beamed, “This is historic and I’m glad to be part of it.”
“Not only will this radically change the game by increasing the quality of storytelling through our work, it’s also a huge step forward for taking care of the unsung individuals who helped to build the industry,” he told the outlet.
Currently, the VFX unit is said to be preparing for their inevitable collective bargaining negotiations with Marvel Studios’ higher-ups, though no concrete dates for these meetings have yet to be set by either party.
However, unlike fellow Hollywood guild members in the Writer’s Guild of America or the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, it the Marvel team is not actively planning to engage in any sort of strike.
As noted above, this unionization move by the Marvel-unit comes as no surprise given the reportedly brutal work conditions visual effects artists are being subjected to across Hollywood.
Speaking to the topic in a video shared to his personal TikTok account, industry VFX artist and production coordinator Zach Mulligan cited such recent VFX horrors as Axl’s talking-head-portal in Thor: Love and Thunder, the awakening of the titular hero’s third eye in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and the whole of Modok’s existence in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and explained, “In the past couple years, it seems like there’s been an increase in the amount of complaints about bad CGI in super hero movie. And there’s a good reason for this, I mean, well, it’s not good, but you’ll see what I mean.”
The bad CGI in #theflash is just the tip of the iceberg. Poor VFX in superhero movies is all too common, and theres a reason for it. Not every movie can be Avatar, but Marvel, DC, Warner Bros, Disney, and Sony can all do something about it. They just choose not to. #vfx #vfxartist #animation #marvel #dcuniverse #batman #nicolascagesuperman #greenscreen #Inverted
“The way that VFX companies get work is that Marvel and WB and other studios will approach VFX comapnies and say ‘Hey, I have 2,000 shots that I need for this sequence’ and the VFX studios will place a bid based on that quantity of shots,” he detailed. “But here’s the catch: the amount of work per shot varies dramatically, so one should could have wire removal, smoke sim[ulation], fire sim, face replacement, green screen and despite the difference in workload between those 2 shots, they both are considered just one shot each (out of the total quantity).”
“Because of this, VFX artists are forced to work relentless hours, overtime, almost every day including weekends,” Mulligan continued. “But here’s the kicker: If the VFX companies aren’t meeting the unrealistic expectations that these studios are setting, they risk losing out on future contracts, and there’s only so many studios that are making superhero movies anymore, which means the VFX companies have to bend over backwards to hit these insane deadlines from these Hollywood.”
“Even if you look at movies like Avatar [The Way of Water] that took 10 years to work on the technology and just develop the VFX, that looked this amazing, you might think the takeaway from the studios would be ‘Well, if we spend more time working on the VFX they might actually look good right?’” the former Black Adam production coordinator then rhetorically raised to his audience. “Let me fill you in on a little secret: Movie studios don’t care about good CGI. They just don’t! The only thing they care about is pleasing their shareholders on the next earnings call.”
“To them, they’ve managed to increase the output of superhero movies that are still making billions of dollars and they’ve reduced the time it takes to make them,” he elaborated. “Studios could easily space out their projects to give these super talented and hard working VFX artists more time to work on the film, but…that’s just not in the best interest of the shareholders. Instead, they increase the pressure on these artists to deliver faster and faster results – no pun intended.”
Drawing his thoughts to a close, Mulligan ultimately admitted, “When you’re putting out this many projects with shorter turn arounds, the VFX will always look worse.”