At Sunday's Oscar ceremony, the visual effects team behind the stunningly beautiful Life of Pi were ushered offstage before group spokesman Bill Westenhofer could explain the central irony of their Oscar win: As they collected the award, their company, Rhythm & Hues, was on the verge of bankruptcy.
"Finally, I want to thank all the artists who worked on this film for over a year," said Westenhofer as the theme from Jaws played over the end of his speech. "Sadly, Rhythm and Hues is suffering severe financial difficulties right now. I urge you all to remember—"
Then the camera cut to Nicole Kidman while Westenhofer and his team were led away.
Westenhofer was probably going to say something like this: I urge you to remember that the visual effects industry is the midst of a crisis. As films and TV shows become more reliant on the work done by these teams, visual effects companies get stretched thinner and thinner, working longer hours on tighter deadlines — even as studios look for ways to cut costs while continuing to deliver the high-impact visuals to which viewers have become accustomed. Many filmgoers don't realize how extensively some film and TV series are touched up by their visual effects team. Yes, visual effects are used for computer-generated character and explosions — but they're also used to make crowds look bigger, locations look better, and just to increase the overall impact of a series in ways intended to be so seamless that audiences never notice. How important are visual effects to the film and television industry? Here, see what some of the most popular shows on TV — including The Walking Dead, Grey's Anatomy, and Revenge — would look like without their visual effects in place: