Marvel Studios annihilated the DCEU at San Diego Comic-Con with stunning announcements and the emotional Black Panther: Wakanda Forever trailer. But the VFX artists who have been laboring behind the scenes for over a decade to bring the Marvel Universe to life have had enough. Now, Joe Pavlo, one of the artists who worked on Guardians of the Galaxy, has shared new details about what made working for Marvel and Disney unbearable.
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VFX artists have been bashing Marvel for a few weeks now, and rumors of unionization are mounting. After Marvel fans trashed the quality of many of Marvel’s Phase Four projects like Moon Knight and particularly She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, which debuted a much smaller version of Tatiana Maslany’s Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk than anticipated.
The VFX industry is riddled with abuses like tight deadlines and crunch, where artists work incredibly long hours, sometimes 80–100-hour weeks, while being atrociously underpaid. Like all major Hollywood studios, Marvel and Disney outsource their visual effects to other companies and often underbid on effect house packages with the lowest cost possible.
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But it is not just the crazy hours or the exploitive pay; artists also say that Marvel Studios and Disney have created a toxic work environment even if they are not onsite with the effect houses. Joe Pavlo recently revealed to The Guardian how studio demands affect the artists, saying:
“The visual effects industry is filled with terrific people with lots of goodwill who really care but, at the end of the day, there’s nothing in place when their backs are up against the wall and Disney is making crazy demands. All the goodwill in the world just evaporates when everything gets changed and they decide they’re replacing that character with a different actor or changing the entire environment – they’re now in a pizza restaurant instead of a cornfield. It can be that extreme at the very last minute.”
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Marvel Studios is a big name in the movie industry, and no VFX company wants to get on its bad side. VFX workers constantly feel pressured to put out good work and develop amazing digital scenes in record time. And Pavlo says these conditions are boarding on abuse, adding:
“It can be characterized as bullying but filtered through multiple layers of management and supervisor and hierarchy. It’s not like the executive from Disney is grabbing someone and swearing at them or something like that. It’s more like an atmosphere where everybody feels like this is the most desperately important thing and, if we don’t do it, we’re all f*cked. The average artist doesn’t even have any contact with the clients. It’s really just the people at the producer and the supervisor level and then they pass it on to their crew. So you could say, oh, the supervisor’s a real bully, but actually it’s a knock-on effect and then the people who are the team leaders, once they can’t handle it, end up being bullies.”
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From the outside, it may seem like Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige have it all planned out. Especially compared to Warner Brothers Discovery which has been shocking DCEU fans left and right with cancelations like Batgirl and rumors it could dissolve their Disney+ competitor HBO Max into Discovery+.
But it has reached the breaking point for the visual artists trying to keep up with the insane pace of Marvel’s projects between the new original shows for Disney+ and the condensed schedule of theatrical releases. Marvel Studios may have bitten off more than they can chew with their ambitious Phase Five and Six plans. Pavlo points out the way having so many projects going on at once affects VFX artists, saying:
“Disney-Marvel is very famous for wanting multiple versions running parallel so that they can decide what they want. (…) If you imagine you get the art department to design a set, you wouldn’t get them to tear down the set 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 and creativity and long hours. It doesn’t create itself.”
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With so many entries into the Marvel Multiverse being films simultaneously, it can lead to quick changes having to be made. There is so much content coming from Marvel and Star Wars that Disney+ is struggling to fit every show its own release date or risk cannibalizing views like what happened with Kenobi and Ms. Marvel.
And Pavlo is clearly far from an outlier. Other artists like Dhruv Govil, who worked in Guardians and Spider-Man: Homecoming, quit the entire industry after working on Marvel shows. He shared on Twitter that the cost-cutting had real effects on his coworkers and friends, saying:
“Working on #Marvel shows is what pushed me to leave the VFX industry. They’re a horrible client, and I’ve seen way too many colleagues break down after being overworked, while Marvel tightens the purse strings.”
Working on #Marvel shows is what pushed me to leave the VFX industry. They're a horrible client, and I've seen way too many colleagues break down after being overworked, while Marvel tightens the purse strings. https://t.co/FacGBfnYmG
— Dhruv Govil (@DhruvGovil) July 10, 2022
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Marvel Studios’ biggest faces have come out in support of the artists who make them look like Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. At the Television Association Summer Press Tour, She-Hulk star Tatiana Maslany voiced her opinion on the behind-the-scenes conditions of VFX workers, saying:
“We have to be conscious of how the work conditions are not always optimal. I feel incredibly deferential to how talented these artists are and how quickly they have to work. [It’s] much quicker than probably should be given to them, in terms of churning these things out.”
There would be no She-Hulk without VFX artists, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is resting on their backs.
Let us know in the comments if you support these artists in unionizing.
You can stream Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Simu Liu’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and the seven series in Marvel’s Phase Four so far — Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany’s WandaVision, Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, Marvel’s What If…?, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, Oscar Isaac’s Moon Knight, Iman Vellani’s Ms. Marvel, and Tatiana Maslany’s She-Hulk — on Disney+ anytime