A couple of weeks ago, I saw this meme about Thor: Love and Thunder. It was a screengrab of the movie showing some kid’s floating face, and the text “this is from a $200M movie”, and then I saw a lot of comparisons between the effects in that movie, and the effects in other, older, movies.
That made me wonder if VFX are getting worse, and if so, why.
The truth is, there’s always been bad VFX, even from studios that usually produce good VFX. For example, look at The Mummy Returns. Not only that movie features one of the worse VFX in the history of VFX-heavy cinema (the digital Scorpion King), the entire movie is full of fake-looking VFX, from the little mummy dudes that follow the protagonists in the jungle, the Anubis army, and pretty much everything else. And we are talking about specialized companies like ILM here. This was not made by low-budget studios. On top of that, you can’t blame it on the technology, because The Mummy Returns released on the same year as the first Lord of The Rings movie.
Recently, I was reading an article about how some VFX artists working in Marvel movies were complaining about crunch, poor working conditions, and other things like the usual “fix it in post” and “filmmakers came up with a new shot and it needs heavy VFX”. This actually reminded me of how Rhythm & Hues went bankrupt, even after working on Life of Pi, and how that opened the way to a lot of protests from VFX studios. That was back in 2013, and apparently it has just gotten worse.
Big blockbuster movies have now reached a point where the live-action component is sometimes minuscule, and everything else is CG (either due to visual effects or “fix it in post” scenarios). On top of that, there’s always the fact that many of these movies go through extensive reshoots and rewrites, even during production, and that means some of the VFX work will be scraped or reworked due to these changes.
For example, movies like Infinity War, Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, and other Marvel Movies fall into this category of “everything is CG except the actor in front of the camera”. You may remember this caused some discussion a few years ago, where some people were asking if Marvel movies should be considered animated movies, because most of what you see on the screen is CG. Obviously this means more VFX work since there are way more VFX shots, which are sometimes very complex. However, the budgets are not really going up.
The first Ironman movie had a budget of $150M, The Incredible Hulk also had a similar budget. The first Guardians movie had a budget of $200M, and that was around 10 years ago. Dr. Strange and The Multiverse of Madness had a budget of $200M and Thor Love and Thunder had a budget of $250M. The scale of the movies has increased drastically, but the budgets haven’t. On top of that, a few of those millions go into paying actors, so the budget for actual production is less (which includes a lot of things, not just VFX). I can’t really say if the budgets for VFX have gone up in the last 10 years, but I have no reason to think they have, if the overall movie budgets have barely gone up in 10 years.
In the case of Love and Thunder, apparently Taika Waititi filmed a 4-hour version of the movie. I wonder how much of these 4 hours had VFX already done, just to be cut from the final version of the movie. With the limited time VFX artists have, the fierce competition, and the increasing amount of work required for these big blockbusters, it’s obvious some movies will end up with bad VFX shots. After all, not everybody can afford to spend 20 years making a movie (looking at you, James Cameron).
While the meme is funny, it just shows the state of modern VFX-oriented filmmaking: poor working conditions and poor management, resulting in bad quality work.