Yes, the costumes (Anna Karenina), the make-up and hairstyling (or unstyling) on Les Miserables and the production design (Lincoln) were all spectacular, but the visual design story of last night’s Oscars was the one that got short shrift: the special effects by Rhythm and Hues for Life of Pi. Ask anyone who loves that movie why they do, and the first thing out of their mouth is the visuals, especially Richard Parker, the digi-real tiger.
But when Best Visual Effects awardee Bill Westenhofer brought up the elephant in the room — that Rhythm and Hues are in bankruptcy and 100s of employees are being cast out to sea — he was cut off, on grounds of exceeding the time limit, and shooed offstage to the accompaniment of the Jaws soundtrack. On receiving his Best Director award, Ang Li omitted altogether to credit the company. Meanwhile, outside the Dolby Theater, members of the LA visual effects community were protesting for their “Piece of the Pi.”
Rhythm and Hues are not the only special effects company in trouble; so too is Dreamworks and before that, Digital Domain. The visual artists and designers in LA’s special effects companies are core to keeping LA’s creative and economic juices flowing. What’s next for this community? Listen to KCRW’s The Business to find out more about the art of special effects and what’s going in the industry.