After midnight, when the coffee and Red Bull had worn off, Sari Gennis and her co-workers would take a brisk stroll to make it through their graveyard shift. For four months straight, often seven days a week, a team of visual effects artists worked 12-hour shifts to complete the 3-D conversion of movie blockbuster Titanic. Gennis said the long hours aggravated a severe arthritis condition. She’d already had both knees replaced, and needed a third surgery, but couldn’t afford to take time off for the operation.
The matte painter, who asked not to be identified for fear of damaging his career, said he nearly died when he fell asleep at the wheel after working 75 consecutive days, up to 17 hours a day, doing visual effects work on National Treasure: Book of Secrets. The money was good – $1,000 a day – but the long hours were taking a toll. Three months after his car accident, he began experiencing chest pains and was rushed to the hospital. He said emergency room nurses initially didn’t believe he was having a heart attack because he was only 37. As a freelancer, he didn’t qualify for the company insurance plan to cover his $100,000 in medical bills. His employer, the now-defunct Asylum Visual Effects, refused to hire him back.
Meanwhile, on Friday afternoon, union representatives hosted an information session for Sony Pictures Imageworks artists who are pushing to unionize the studio, a story that we covered last week on Cartoon Brew. The Animation Guild reported that the meeting was a success with over 75 Imageworks employees attending.
So will this turn out to be the VFX Spring as some are suggesting? There’s a lot of positive sentiment right now, but no one is under the illusion that working conditions will improve overnight. Animation Guild rep Steve Hulett noted on his blog that the Imageworks meeting was “only the first few steps of a long hike, but we’re going to do whatever it takes to reach out and get visual effects artists and technical directors under the big union tent.”