In a groundbreaking move for the visual effects (VFX) industry, workers at Marvel Studios have taken a historic step by voting to unionise. This decision comes after years of grievances related to overwork, underpayment, and lack of job security. The VFX crews at Marvel have petitioned for union recognition from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), marking the first time visual-effects professionals have come together to demand the same rights and protections enjoyed by other workers in the entertainment industry.
For decades, VFX professionals have been denied the same protections and benefits afforded to their counterparts in various divisions of the entertainment industry. While costume designers, makeup artists, and other below-the-line workers have long been championed by unions like IATSE, VFX workers have remained unrepresented, leading to an imbalance in terms of pay, working conditions, and job security. The lack of unionisation has left VFX professionals vulnerable to exploitation, unrealistic deadlines, and a lack of compensation for overtime work. This has created a pressing need for VFX workers to come together and demand fair treatment and representation.
Marvel Studios, one of the industry’s leading producers of VFX-heavy films and series, has faced significant criticism in recent years for its treatment of VFX crews. Reports have highlighted a culture of overworking and underpaying VFX professionals, leading to burnout and dissatisfaction among the workers. This issue is particularly pronounced considering the integral role VFX plays in modern filmmaking, with the majority of films now relying on extensive visual effects to enhance storytelling and create immersive experiences for audiences.
In response to years of unfair treatment, a group of over 50 on-set VFX employees at Marvel Studios filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to be represented by IATSE. The workers have expressed their desire for union recognition and are seeking an election to be held as early as 21 August. This move represents a significant step forward for VFX workers, as it signals their determination to secure the same rights, wage protections, and professional oversight enjoyed by workers in other segments of the entertainment industry.
Mark Patch, a VFX organiser for IATSE, emphasised the importance of this moment, stating, “For almost half a century, workers in the visual-effects industry have been denied the same protections and benefits their coworkers and crewmates have relied upon since the beginning of the Hollywood film industry. This is a historic first step for VFX workers coming together with a collective voice demanding respect for what we do.”
The unionisation of VFX workers at Marvel Studios can potentially send ripples throughout the entire industry. With Marvel’s reputation as a major player in the VFX field, the studio’s treatment of its VFX crews sets a standard that other production houses often follow. By securing union recognition for on-set VFX professionals, it sets a precedent for the viability of industry-wide unionisation. This could lead to a domino effect, with post-production houses and other VFX studios following suit, ultimately resulting in improved working conditions, fair compensation, and better job security for VFX professionals across the board.
The push for union recognition from Marvel and its parent company, Disney, comes at a time when labour issues are at the forefront of the entertainment industry. The Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild are currently on strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, causing disruptions in production schedules and raising awareness about the rights of entertainment workers. The VFX workers’ unionisation effort aligns with this broader labour movement, as entertainment workers across various sectors join forces to demand fair treatment and improved working conditions.
Coinciding with the unionisation effort, there has been growing fan displeasure and critical feedback regarding the quality of computer-generated imagery (CGI) in Marvel Studios’ movies and series. This criticism has gained momentum in recent months following the firing of Victoria Alonso, Marvel’s former president of postproduction and VFX. The dissatisfaction expressed by fans and critics highlights the importance of providing VFX professionals with the necessary resources, time, and support to deliver high-quality visual effects that enhance the storytelling and overall cinematic experience.
While filing the petition for union recognition is a significant step, it does not guarantee immediate changes. A VFX workers strike could become a reality if negotiations between the workers and Marvel Studios fail. Strikes have historically been an effective means for workers to demand fair treatment and secure union recognition.