Marvel is facing criticism for its VFX work, with many artists saying they will never work with the studio again. There have been reports of artists finding it impossible to meet deadlines and being under intense pressure, causing stress and unsatisfactory results. Many of those who request not to work on Marvel projects again said the studio has the "worst VFX management out there."
Artists across the industry have expressed their negative experiences on r/VFX, a subreddit for the VFX industry. The subreddit is almost devoid of praise for the employer, with many saying that the money and reputation aren't worth tolerating the poor working conditions.
"Working on Marvel projects ends up being incredibly stressful, and this is a widely known issue throughout the VFX industry, it's not specific to any one VFX house," wrote an anonymous Marvel project worker to CNET. Demand for visual effects artists has risen, servicing multiple productions from Marvel, Warner Bros., Sony, and others. Studios secure work by placing bids based on how many shots they need, and competition can be fierce. A low bid can win, but actual workloads can vary dramatically.
"You bid on a number of shots and hope that, on average, they don't end up being too complicated or difficult, or that the client gets too caught up in minor details and keeps sending shots back for more work," animator and VFX artist Peter Allen told CNET. As a result, effects artists often work long hours for hard release dates without getting paid overtime.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is gearing up for another big year with a continuous stream of new content, placing increasing strain on effects artists. She-Hulk, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Ms. Marvel were recently picked apart for disappointing superpower effects.
However, VFX artists are now calling for change. It is widely acknowledged in the industry that Marvel has a reputation for pushing its artists to the limit. A source told CNET that he worked 60 to 80 hours weekly for "multiple months in a row."
"I've had to comfort people crying at their desks late at night from the sheer pressure involved, and routinely had colleagues call me having anxiety attacks," the effects artist said. "I've heard personally from many artists that they ask to avoid Marvel shows in their future assignments."
A Marvel effects artist explained Marvel's problems to CNET as: a demand to see near-complete work early, high-pressure environments that result in burnout and low morale, and a budget that squeezes out more experienced, more expensive workers.
Marvel is apparently known for demanding "tons of variations" after shots are exhaustively delivered. Often, production changes occur late, potentially weeks before release, resulting in excessive overtime work. For example, artists were forced to change the latest Doctor Strange's VFX sequences at the last minute.
"We've literally made up entire third acts of a film a month before release because the director didn't know what they wanted," one source said to CNET about Marvel. "Even Marvel's parent Disney is much easier to work with on their live-action films."
VFX houses are typically powerless to challenge this unless they are willing to risk financial ruin."Marvel has multiple blockbusters in a row, and studios that displease them risk losing out on tons of work," said an effects artist. "So they don't push back as much as they would with other clients."
Even so, some artists claim working on Marvel projects is "pretty much the same as any other film," and it is up to the effects houses to protect their workers. Visual effects unions, such as the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, have attempted to organize the industry. However, studios can often just pivot to outsourcing or using ununionized workers to cut costs.
According to one effects artist, Marvel still needs to make its own changes, starting with providing directors with more training on digital effects."Marvel's directors are often inexperienced with the VFX process, both on set and after," an effects artist told CNET.
The VFX artist said Marvel needs to stop thinking that "VFX gives [it] infinite room to change things." They emphasized that Marvel should work with its directors to minimize the number of VFX iterations during production."With training -- with clearer, more 'decisive' visualization provided to directors early in the process -- everyone could be on the same page."