Visual effects artists often don’t get the recognition they deserve, despite their massive contribution to the success of Hollywood blockbusters. So says the member-driven organisation, the Visual Effects Society.

As a result, the VES – which represents 2400 artists/practitioners across more than 20 countries, including Australia – has fought back and approved a document outlining their rights. The industry wants better employment conditions and recognition for their work.

“We believe that achieving these outcomes – which will benefit visual effects artists and practitioners, visual effects facilities, directors and production studios – will be a collaborative process,” the Bill of Rights states.

“This Bill of Rights is only a starting point for a meaningful discussion that will unfold over the months ahead. Each geographic community that is involved in the crafting of visual effects has different needs. VES’s goal is to play the role of catalyst to bring together all the participants in the entertainment industry who interact with visual effects.”

The release of the document comes after an open letter was written in May by VES executive director Eric Roth, which raised issues for the sector such as: credits for VFX artists were frequently listed incompletely and towards the end of the credit roll; VFX artists generally receive less health care and pension benefits than other screen professionals who belong to a union; and that freelancers can be forced to work 70-100 hour weeks for months on end in order to meet a delivery date.

"Many feel VFX artists are being taken advantage of and many others feel that VFX facilities are operating under unsustainable competitive restraints and profit margins," Roth said in the letter.

"Though the number of jobs has grown worldwide, job security and working conditions have significantly eroded."

The VES says the top 43 (out of 50) films were effects-driven and that the effects "make contemporary movies box office hits in the same way that big actors ensured the success of films in the past".

In the Bill of Rights, which was unanimously approved by the VES Board, a VFX artist or practitioner has the right to:

  • A clear understanding of the work he/she is being hired to perform, including knowing what they are being paid per hour, per week or per job, as well as the duration of the assignment, with strict adherence to all local labor laws and tax codes regarding overtime, sick time, vacation time, working conditions, safety and other aspects of a professional work environment. This would include a minimum of an industry-standard turnaround between work shifts;
  • Negotiate a modification in the terms of employment should the realities of the position change in any material way, or decline work that is outside the terms of the employment agreement;
  • Quality health care coverage no matter where in the world he/she may be working;
  • Be paid on time;
  • Work under conditions conducive to the work they are expected to perform and the creative process it entails;
  • Be given a reasonable amount of notice when being asked to work overtime. If asked, to be able to turn down such requests without reprisals; 
  • An appropriate and certifiable credit;
  • Show their work after the project is commercially released for the purpose of securing more work.

The VES says it "must be implemented" in order to strengthen the VFX industry. The industry in Australia is set to increase with the news that LA-based effects company Digital Domain will open a local office in Sydney. Companies such as Rising Sun Pictures, Animal Logic and Fuel VFX often get employed by US Studios, including most recently for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (Warner Bros.) and Captain America: The First Avenger (Marvel).

"We recognise that the responsibility of moving this program further lies primarily with the VES. This is a global issue – by working together, we will benefit together, and so will the entertainment industry at large."

The VES will now focus on bringing all parties together to seek solutions.

To view the Bill of Rights, click here. To view the open letter, click here.

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