In recent weeks, the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19) has forced cinemas to shutter, events to cancel or postpone, schools to close their campuses, and companies to send their staff home. But while even major animation studios shut their offices, the visual effects industry is lagging behind.

Many vfx shops continue to ask their staff to come into work. A major reason for this is the existence of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), which complicates the work-from-home setup. The industry’s slow reaction has sparked widespread criticism from its artists, who accuse employers of neglecting the health risks of on-site working.

They have found a voice in Mario Rokicki, a color supervisor at DNEG in Vancouver, Canada. On Sunday, Rokicki launched a petition (independently, not as a DNEG representative) to pressure employers to change their practices. The petition is addressed to the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the major Hollywood film studios and Netflix. At the time of writing, it has over 5,500 signatures.

Rokicki’s accompanying statement reads:

The coronavirus (Covid-19) is a global pandemic. It is spreading around the globe and will affect everybody with projected up to 70% of the population contracting the disease. The experts agree that to prevent unnecessary deaths mainly caused by overloading hospitals is to observe social distancing to “flatten the curve.”

Many high technology companies sent their staff home and provide remote working capabilities. Unfortunately vfx studios around the globe that work on projects for the Hollywood studios and streaming companies are prevented from providing remote working solutions to their staff. NDAs pushed on vfx studios don’t allow artists, production, tech, and support staff to work from home. [O]ften overcrowded facilities and artists that sit elbow to elbow pushing long-hour days with overtime puts not only me but also my loved ones at risk of catching the virus.

The NDAs that are forced on vfx studios put artists and stuff at the peril. What was minor inconvenience before is the major life risk situation with coronavirus outbreak. Vfx houses have or can quickly deploy secure technology solutions to allow work from home on the projects that with the magnitude of the pandemic will probably be delayed.

All I ask is to put aside often legal misguided [intellectual property] protection measures and harsh NDAs and allow tens of thousands of dedicated artists to work from home and prevent total vfx studios shutdown and layoffs. We want to make the best of the tough times and towards creating the great work that we always delivered in the past.

On Monday, Rokicki posted an update:

There is news of first vfx houses allowing remote work. Some are closing and laying off people. This is also Monday and a lot of artists and support staff are back at their desks in the facilities risking infection to keep their jobs. Let’s keep going! Please share the petition with coworkers and on social media so we can keep the momentum and make the work from home part of how we do vfx.

Do you work in the industry? Want to tell us how your employer is reacting? Leave a comment below or email, stating whether you wish to remain anonymous.

(Image at top: “Sonic the Hedgehog”)

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