I’m a Sound Effects Artist, and I’m Tired of Getting “Pixel-F-ked” By Marvel

What does it look like to work as a visual effects artist in the MCU? “I had co-workers sitting next to me, breaking down and starting to cry.”
Image caption: Vulture / Disney Plus, Marvel

It’s so well known and even vague banter in all the visual effects houses that working in Marvel shows is really hard. When I worked on one movie, overtime was about six months each day. I worked seven days a week, averaging 64 hours a week in a good week. Marvel is working really hard. I had co-workers sitting next to me, breaking down and starting to cry. I’ve had people having anxiety attacks on the phone.

The studio has a lot of power over the influencers’ houses, if only because it has so many blockbuster movies coming out one after the other. If you bother Marvel in any way, there’s a very high chance you won’t get these projects in the future. So the houses are trying to bend backwards to keep Marvel happy.

To get work, houses bid on a project; They are all trying to get into each other’s bids. With Marvel, bids will usually come a little lower, and Marvel is happy with this relationship, because it saves them money. But what happens in the end is that all Marvel projects tend to be understaffed. Where I usually have a team of ten VFX artists in a non-Marvel movie, in one Marvel movie, I’ve got two including myself. So everyone is doing more than they need to.

The other thing with Marvel is that they are notorious for ordering a lot of changes during the process. So you’re already exhausted, but then Marvel requires regular changes that go beyond what any other customer does. And some of those changes are really big. Maybe a month or two before the movie comes out, Marvel will have us change the entire third chapter. It’s really tight time slots. Well, it’s not a great situation all over the place. One of the visual effects house couldn’t finish the number of shots and reshoots that Marvel requested in time, so Marvel had to give my studio the work. Since then, this house has actually been blacklisted from the Marvel Acquisition Works.

Part of the problem comes from the MCU itself – just the sheer number of movies it has. It sets dates, and is very inflexible on those dates; However, she’s all too ready to do reshoots and make big changes so close to dates without changing them up or down. This is not a new dynamic.

I remember going to a presentation by one of the other VFX houses about an MCU movie early onAnd the And people were talking about how to “exploit pixels”. This is the term we use in the industry when a customer selects every little pixel. Even if you didn’t notice it. The client might say, “That’s not exactly what I want” and you keep working on it. But they have no idea what they want. So they’ll be like, “Can you just try this? Can you just try that?” They’ll want you to change the whole setting, the whole environment, very late in the movie.

The main problem is that most Marvel directors are not familiar with working with visual effects. Many of them have just worked on small independent films at the Sundance Film Festival and have never worked with visual effects. They do not know how to imagine something that did not yet exist, that was not tuned in to them. So Marvel often starts asking for what we call “ultimate shows.” While we’re working on a movie, we’ll be sending in pictures in progress that aren’t pretty but show where we’re at. Marvel often asks for it to be delivered in much higher quality much earlier, and that takes a lot of time. Marvel does this because its managers don’t know how to look at rough images ahead of time and make judgment calls. But this is how the industry should operate. You can’t show off something so beautiful when the basics are still embodied.

The other problem, when we’re in post production, we don’t have a director of photography. So we invent the shots often. It causes a lot of contradiction. A good example of what happens in these scenarios is the battle scene at the end Black Panther. Physics is completely off. Suddenly, the characters jump, and they do all these crazy moves like action figures in space. Suddenly, the camera makes these moves that didn’t happen in the rest of the movie. Everything looks a little cartoonish. It broke the visual language of the film.

Things have to change on both ends of the spectrum. Marvel needs to train its managers to work with visual effects and get a better view out of the gate. The studio needs to put its directors’ feet into the fire more to stick to what they want. The other thing is unions. There is a growing movement to do this, as it will help ensure that VFX homes cannot accept bids without having to think about potential impacts. Because a lot of the time, you can work on a Marvel show, and you’ll work on it for cheaper just because it’s cool.

Some of the problems you mention are universal to every show and every project. But you end up spending less extra time on other programs. You end up being able to pay more managers. When they say something like, “Hey, I want this,” you can say, “That doesn’t make sense.” Not every customer has Marvel’s bullying powerhouse.

Do you have a story to share about working as a sound effects artist? Let us know at stories@vulture.com.

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