Over the past year, Marvel Studios has been under fire from several fronts. The spell that the MCU had cast for over ten years started to disappear for many people which, combined with a bottleneck effect on the VFX industry caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighted the low quality of the CGI in recent Marvel projects, particularly Thor: Love and Thunder and She-Hulk.
VFX workers quickly got the memo and raised their voices to denounce an unfair system and even oppressive system that Marvel Studios were exercising on them. Following a (since-removed) damning post on Reddit by an anonymous industry worker denouncing long hours, seven-day workweeks and impossible deadlines, Vulture published an op-ed from an anonymous VFX worker that painted a full picture of what it was like working under Marvel. “I’ve had co-workers sit next to me, break down, and start crying. I’ve had people having anxiety attacks on the phone,” it said. Several possible solutions were raised, one of them being unionization — a threat from the writers guild that now looms over Hollywood.
Multiple other voices across the industry were raised all throughout 2022, and they were echoed by major outlets like IGN, The Gamer, and all over social media. Reports suggested that Marvel had put their best plumbers on the task of fixing their latest water leak, and with the release of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which also faced some online backlash over the quality of its CGI, Vulture decided it was time to check if the situation was now under control or if Marvel was still the Mephisto-like client that everyone painted last year. Spoiler alert, yes, this is still the case.
How Marvel Studios understaffed companies working on Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
In their research for the article, Vulture found out that Marvel Studios had diverted a lot of the effort that was originally invested into Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania back to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, a movie they really wanted to get right. This is not the first time we hear something along these lines — Kevin Feige, for instance, was reportedly more invested in that movie than in pretty much any other 2022 project. Many VFX houses had been hired to work on both movies, which eventually created internal divisions and competition.
The studio, once again, also established impossible deadlines and was extremely nitpicky over the work submitted by understaffed companies with a severe lack of resources. Perhaps more disturbing was that Marvel Studios is also famous for demanding changes on a regular basis to entire VFX sequences and/or backgrounds/sceneries, forcing many companies to work over 80 hours a week for months in a row. Said one of the interviewees:
“This was like a second wave of what happened with James Cameron on Titanic, where the compositors were basically taking naps under their desks, because there wasn’t enough time between shifts to go back home, then come back. Now, the entirety of the industry that has been touched by Marvel is permanently seared, and that’s what’s causing the most burnout.”
The problem here is that many of these companies rely on the work provided by Marvel to survive. Marvel Studios is close to being a monopoly, at least as far as hiring companies on a regular basis to work on VFX goes. As one artist put it to Vulture, one of the many solutions that can be implemented to address this problem is to invest more money and resources into the VFX pipeline. In one of the more damning paragraphs in the article, one of the people that the publication reached out for comment on their experience, said the following:
“A lot of us are sitting here thinking, The money is there. Why is it not coming down? Marvel spending a bit more money to pay more VFX people wouldn’t make that much of a difference for the executives all the way at the top. But if it comes down to them not being comfortable with their bank numbers and us working until burnout, we lose out every time. Honestly, I equate it to human greed.”
Perhaps there is a point to be made there in terms of where the money is being invested, and why are the top people at the studio getting fat checks for firing VFX companies after “pixel-f*ing them” (as Vulture explained it, this is “an industry phrase used to describe the behavior of nitpicking clients who lack the VFX knowledge to communicate their needs”). However, an alternate point to be made is why Marvel Studios essentially extends blank checks to the actors they want to work with, but are hesitant to pay the VFX workers that sustain their films what they are worth.
This is a bubble that is about to explode. The Writers Guild of America is playing and winning a game of chess with the entire Hollywood system, threatening them with a strike that could be cataclysmic for the entire production pipeline. If the VFX workers moved into unionization once and for all, a similar or even bigger threat could loom over the entire film landscape, with the subsequent financial crisis potentially being the straw that broke the camel’s back.
What do you think of all of this? Did you notice that the visual effects of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania were a bit clunky, or was that more the case for She-Hulk or Love and Thunder? How do you think this issue with Marvel Studios will be resolved, and what other solutions to the problem do you propose? Let us know on our social media and stay tuned for more on this story as it continues to develop!