For superfans it was a super frenzy. After three long years, Comic-Con returned last month. to full assist mode in San Diego and made up for lost time by introducing a new slate of Marvel movies.
There were tantalizing glimpses of Black Panther: Wakanda ForeverGuardians of the Galaxy Vol 3, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, and two Avengers movies due in 2025: Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars.
But while the multibillion-dollar Disney-owned franchise is the gift it keeps on giving to actors, crews and distributors, there’s a vital team at the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) who seem to be doing the worst: VFX artists.
First-hand accounts have recently exploded in the media and social media casting. Wonderful in a deeply unflattering light as an employer: insatiable in its demands, impossible to please, overworking and underpaying the very staff that imbues its content with miracles and wonders
“Working on #Marvel shows is what pushed me to leave the VFX industry,” tweeted Dhruv Govil, a visual effects artist who contributed to films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man: Homecoming. “They’re a horrible client, and I’ve seen too many colleagues collapse after working too hard, while Marvel tightens the purse strings.”
Govil added: “The problem is that #Marvel is too big and can demand whatever it wants. It’s a toxic relationship.”
Another visual effects artist, who wishes to remain anonymous, told New York magazine’s Vulture website:: “When I worked on a movie, it was almost six months of overtime every day. I was working seven days a week, averaging 64 hours a week on a good week. Marvel really makes you work really hard. I’ve had coworkers sit next to me, break down, and start crying. I’ve had people have anxiety attacks over the phone.”
The anonymous artist described Marvel as so successful, dominant and prolific that VFX houses are scrambling to undermine each other in hopes of landing the next assignment. But then they tend to be understaffed, trying to do more with less. And Marvel is a perfectionist to death, requesting changes at the end of the process, much more than a typical client.
Such testimony comes as little surprise to joe pavlo, an Emmy Award-winning visual effects artist based in London. He worked on Guardians of the Galaxy: “it was a disaster,” he recalls The Guardian, “it was crazy,” pointing to the structural reasons why VFX artists, who typically work for outside vendors without collective bargaining rights, get the rough end of the stick.
“The visual effects industry is full of wonderful people with a lot of goodwill who really care but, at the end of the day, nothing is in place when their backs are against the wall and Disney is making crazy demands,” says Pavlo. by phone. .
“All the goodwill in the world just evaporates when everything changes and they decide to replace that character with a different actor or change the whole setting: now they’re in a pizza restaurant instead of a cornfield. It can be so extreme at the last minute.”
Pavlo, who is from the US but has lived in London since 1984, continues: “It can be characterized as bullying, but it filters through multiple levels of management, supervisors and hierarchies.
“It’s not like the Disney executive is grabbing someone and cursing at them or anything. It’s more like an atmosphere where everyone feels like this is the most desperately important thing and if we don’t do it, we’re all screwed.
“The average artist doesn’t even have contact with clients. It’s really just the people at the producer and supervisor level and then they pass it on to his team. So you could say, oh, the supervisor is a real bully, but it’s really a knock-on effect and then the people who are the team leaders, once they can’t handle it, they end up being bullies.
“Bullying is a big problem in our industry because sometimes everyone is so desperate. There seems to be a high level of stress and pressure on these jobs to complete them on time, to turn everything around in the blink of an eye.”
Many artists fear that taking a stand on pay and conditions could land them on the blacklist. Bringing visual effects workers together under the umbrella of a union could be a solution.
Pavlo, president of the animation and visual effects branch of the Union of Broadcasting, Shows, Communications and Theater (Bectu), adds: “Disney-Marvel is very famous for wanting multiple versions in parallel so they can decide what they want. A strong union would be able to reduce that a bit.
“If you imagine having the art department design a set, you wouldn’t get them to tear it down and rebuild a completely different set 35 times. Because it’s digital, people don’t see it as the same thing, but it is: it involves work, creativity, and long hours. Don’t believe yourself.”
In particular, union organizing campaigns are underway at corporate giants like Amazon and Starbucks, offering a possible model. Pavlo adds, “If they can do it, all the bosses and smart people in the VFX industry can figure out how to do it.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, there is agreement ben speight, organizer of the Animation Guild, which represents animation artists, writers and technicians and is part of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. He points out that Disney has a long history of negotiating with union-represented animation workers.
Speight says of Disney and Marvel: “These are incredibly profitable entities that can certainly afford to expand collective bargaining to VFX workers who don’t currently have a seat at the table.
“That is the structural reality that is leading to people like the Marvel VFX worker who recently shared his story anonymously in New York magazine. It is a testimony of something much broader than that isolated story. It is something that will continue to happen as long as people are employed at will.”
Disney, which also owns Star Wars, has had more than your share of controversies lately. At events like Comic-Con, on-screen talent tends to draw adulation from the crowd. But visual effects artists are no less important in the construction of this epic 21st century narrative.
drexel listeneda Los Angeles-based Democratic strategist and movie buff, comments, “The visual effects team carries the biggest load on Marvel movies now that it’s all green screen, done on soundstages that require a little more effects. visuals and fewer hard walls and less carpentry.
“Disney will need to use their visual effects teams more and they need to be compensated for their contribution and working conditions. Ultimately they will get to that point, but it takes a person like that Vulture article to say, hey, it’s time for someone to step in and protect this side, just like every other department. .”
Heard would like to see Marvel stars like brand ruffaloa political activist and labor rights advocate, he takes up the cause of VFX artists.
“It’s going to take a lot of celebrity power, a lot of Avengers, to come in and say, ‘Hey, the people who have made our movies deserve better working conditions, and we want to be able to support those who have made our movies.’ movies look good.’”
the Walt Disney Company did not respond to a request for comment.