The Oscars brought to an end a bittersweet awards season for the team behind the remarkable CGI creatures in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. The film won four gongs last night, including one for Best Visual Effects, but the prize came too late for the firm responsible, Rhythm & Hues, which filed for bankruptcy protection on 13 February.
Hundreds reportedly gathered outside the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles prior to the Academy Awards ceremony, to protest Hollywood’s treatment of visual effects technicians. America’s effects industry has been decimated by competition from abroad, including in China, India and Canada, where tax incentives allow VFX companies to underbid their US rivals.
Rhythm & Hues has won two Oscars previously: for Babe in 1995, and The Golden Compass in 2007. The firm, which recently marked its 25th anniversary, was nominated twice this year, for its work on Life of Pi and Snow White and the Huntsman. Mr Lee’s film was lauded for its extraordinarily lifelike supporting cast of CGI beasts, including an orangutan, a zebra, a phosphorescent whale, a herd of meerkats and a single, charismatic tiger named “Richard Parker”. The film’s effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer and his team created around three-quarters of the final film’s visuals.
Mr Lee said last week that he was “very sad” to hear of the firm’s plight. “I hope they can be saved somehow. My heart goes out to them,” the director told The Hollywood Reporter. As Mr Westenhofer attempted to explain the woes of Rhythm & Hues to the Oscars crowd in his acceptance speech last night, he was cut short by the band striking up – with the theme from a famously pre-CGI blockbuster, Jaws.