Visual-Effects Protest Spreads to Twitter, Facebook (Updated)

Visual-effects artists are filling their social media profiles with blank green screens to protest the bankruptcy of Rhythm & Hues and layoffs at DreamWorks Animation

Visual-effects workers have already taken to the streets outside the Oscars to protest the layoffs and bankruptcies roiling their industry. Now they're taking their message to Facebook and Twitter in a series of coordinated protests.

To show their solidarity, they are plastering their social media pages with blank green screens. It's a demonstration of what effects-heavy films would look like if there were no longer artists and designers around to create elaborate digital worlds and jaw-dropping action sequences.

The color green is not an arbitrary choice. Films like "Life of Pi" and "Avatar" were largely shot against a green screen, with designers creating the backdrops in post-production.

"The green squares is an example of both solidarity and the combustion to be had when a very creative group is allowed to create," Dave Rand, a visual effects artist at Rhythm & Hues and one of the organizers of the Oscars protest, told TheWrap. "Our protest was designed through social media. There were not rules."

The Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by Rhythm & Hues Studios this month combined with DreamWorks Animation's decision to cut about 350 jobs or 15 percent of its staff have drawn together a diffuse group of artists and technicians. They believe that studios' thirst for lucrative tax subsidies from countries like Canada and the United Kingdom and the cheaper labor offered in Asia are pushing more and more jobs abroad.

It's also forcing highly respected California-based shops like Rhythm & Hues, which was the home of the team that won an Academy Award on Sunday for its work on "Life of Pi," to the brink of ruin.

"I hope the protest will result in better treatment of VFX artists," Andrew Hawryluk, a freelance visual-effects artist, told TheWrap. "I consider myself one of the lucky ones to be currently employed, treated very well and paid on time, but there are many VFX workers out who slave away on major projects (with budgets worth hundreds of millions of dollars) for months on end with 80+ hour work weeks, no overtime compensation, and from what I gather from the community, many instances of top companies never paying workers after the projects are over and the freelancers are let go."

The online agitation comes days after roughly 500 protestors rallied outside the Dolby Theater on Sunday where the Academy Awards were being held to protest the financial turmoil many effects companies are experiencing. Their signs carried messages such as "respect for vfx" and "we want a piece of the Pi," according to a report in Variety.

A visual effects industry blog VFXSoldier has been a gathering hub for worried artists and designers; a place where they can vent in the comments section and gather information about the impact subsidies are having on their business.

The writer of the blog is anonymous, but confessed to TheWrap that the intensity of the protests have been a surprise.

"I'm shocked and pleasantly surprised by the turnout," the blog's writer said.

"There always was a wake-up call, but the sad thing about our industry is that we deal with things at the last minute. With the bankruptcy of Rhythm & Hues and the DreamWorks layoffs, everybody all of a sudden is saying, 'we have to do something now to take advantage of this moment.'"

Inside the Dolby Theater on Oscar night, "Life of Pi" triumphed over the competition to pick up the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. However, the orchestra played over Bill Westenhofer, one of the members of the winning team, as he tried to make a point about the dangers that Rhythm & Hues' failure poses for Hollywood. 

Backstage, freed of the time constraints applied to a globally broadcast awards show, he was able to expound on his fears about the bankruptcy filing.

"We're not technicians … we're artists, and if we don't do something to change the business model, we might lose some of the artistry," Westenhofer said.