Special Effects Artists Need a Break

Movies are among the top art forms in the world. Have been for about a century now. It’s easy to see why; you sit back for two hours and do nothing while a film transports you to a tale larger than life, be it an adventure or a comedy.

They’re constructed like a clock. Each piece is integral to its function. Acting, writing, music, visuals, and direction all work together to create the intended experience. Without these pieces, the work simply does not function.

For a film, the visuals are a particularly large piece. After all, you watch a movie. That’s where the editors, cinematographers, the lighting crew, and so many other important people behind the scenes step in. Sure, the actors are the ones putting on the show. But without the crew, there’s no show to begin with.

Just as important are the visual effects artists. They’re the ones that work their magic to sell the illusions of the film. In a fantasy epic or a sci-fi film, it’s their job to bring the world and mystical creatures within it to life. For a gag comedy, they’re the ones that make some of the jokes, such as slapstick or visual gags, come to life.

It’s never been an easy job. Back before CGI was a thing, visual effects relied on things like miniatures, stop-motion animation, mat painting backgrounds, and other such things. It was back-breaking work, but it was still worth it. Most films from those days have aged remarkably well. Even those that haven’t have an old charm to them.

Nowadays, though, it’s all about computer animation. Not that that’s any easier. Sure, the VFX team doesn’t have to maintain miniatures or anything like that. But modeling and animating for big-budget films, trying to make everything look as realistic as possible, is hard. Especially since most of the time, their work ages remarkably quickly; with how fast technology evolves, most films from even a decade ago look aged and unrealistic. It ain’t easy.

Especially when the poor bastards are as overworked as slaves.

Cinema isn’t the way it used to be. That may sound like an old man yearning for the old days talking, but it’s true. Movies aren’t about artistic expression anymore, they’re a business. Hollywood especially; it’s all about cranking out films in the same formula to lure in the same audience to make even more money than the last time. Nowadays, it isn’t uncommon for a studio to be working on ten movies at once before they even release the first one.

As such, visual effects artists are given way too much to do all at once. Deadlines are tight and they’ve got to put their noses to the grindstone until they’ve got nothing left. Gotta work on six Avatar sequels at once, gotta get out the next four Marvel projects coming out this year, gotta finish making another god damn Star Wars show that the fans are gonna whine about. It’s an endless, relentless, exhausting work cycle.

It’s an unsustainable cycle, as well. You can’t put people to work that hard for that long without the end product suffering. Just look at some recent Disney movies. The studio known for having the biggest computers with the most powerful animation processing have produced films that genuinely look worse than what they put out over a decade ago. All because the VFX team haven’t been given the time – or the rest – they need to properly put these scenes together.

Unfortunately, that relentless grind isn’t going to stop anytime soon. That ain’t how it works in Capitalism. The output of movies and TV shows is just gonna keep on getting faster and more unforgiving for the people actually working on this stuff. The machine will keep chuggin’ on.

At least, until something breaks. But in this context, I’d rather not imagine what that ‘something’ is gonna be.


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