Oscar-nominated visual effects company behind Life of Pi files for bankruptcy protection

Rhythm & Hues Studios, one of America's best known effects companies, has worked on 145 films from Babe to Django Unchained

The visual effects company that wowed audiences with its creation of a 450-pound Bengal tiger in Life of Pi was hailed by the British Academy on Sunday, winning a Bafta for its work. By the following day, Rhythm & Hues Studios (R&H) had filed for bankruptcy protection.

On the Royal Opera House podium Bill Westenhofer, the film’s visual effects supervisor, gave a rousing clarion call for his craft after winning the Bafta for special visual effects. “For those of us who do visual effects, you all laud us for our science at times but we’re also artists, and we thank Life Of Pi for giving us the opportunity to show that if you give us the opportunity we will make art with you,” he said. 

Other effects companies praised R&H with Sir William Sargent, chief executive of UK company Framestore, calling Life of Pi “an astonishing piece of work," adding: "These are good people whose work has been exemplary.”

Yet a year after celebrating its 25th anniversary, the company that is up for two Oscars later this month for work on Pi and Snow White and the Huntsman, has been forced to seek Chapter 11 protection. The bankruptcy documents were posted online yesterday.

Another visual effects head who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “Everyone was in awe of what they achieved” before adding: “It is a sad day when such a respected company faces issues like this. Many will be thinking: ‘There but for the grace of God’.”

R&H, which has a workforce of 1,400, hit difficulties after several film projects were cancelled and delayed, while it is believed that its competitive pitching rates, and decision to move into co-production left it financially stretched. “It was not one single event but a culmination of many that brought them to this point,” one source familiar with the situation said.

Hopes were high last week that R&H would be saved, but a deal tabled by Indian rival Prime Focus fell through. Founder John Hughes called workers into a meeting on Monday to outline the perilous financial position.

The fall from grace of one of the America’s best known effects companies, which was credited on over 145 films from Babe in 1995 to this year’s Django Unchained, have left question marks over the state of the industry.

This follows news that DreamWorks Animation was looking to slash costs, possibly culminating in a string of job losses. Companies face a tough economic climate, small profit margins, and competition from across the globe.

Sir William said: “The industry is in a tough place because studios slowed down in 2012 and didn’t shoot much. Margins are tight, which is a cycle that happens every few years. It calls for careful navigation.”

R&H has started laying off staff, while others continue to work on existing projects. The president of the company’s film division Lee Berger said R&H was “seeking to secure financing for future growth” adding it would “come out of this situation stronger”.

Life of Pi was widely praised for its stunning visual effects from the tiger Richard Parker, to a hail of flying fish, a phosphorescent whale and the island of meerkats. Mr Westenhofer and his team created three-quarters of the final film’s visuals, building the majority from scratch. Ang Lee called R&H’s work “impeccable”.

In his Bafta acceptance speech Mr Westenhofer said: “One of the central themes of Life Of Pi is asking the audience to question what they believe is real and not real, so how appropriate that was our job in visual effects,” to ask audiences to believe the tiger they had created digitally was real. He added: “If we’re holding this I guess we did OK.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits