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Disney's 'Avatar' VFX artists vote to unionize for fair representation


In a groundbreaking development, a group of visual effects artists working on Disney's CGI-heavy 'Avatar' films has successfully voted to unionize with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). This marks the first time that a group of 'vendor-side' VFX artists have secured union representation through an official National Labor Relations Board vote. With 57 votes in favor and 19 against, these VFX workers, employed by a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios, are associated with the Lightstorm Entertainment production company.

The decision to unionize has been met with enthusiastic support from the VFX community, as it promises to bring about more equitable compensation and benefits for these talented artists. Patrick DeVaney, a post-vis coordinator at Lightstorm, expressed his pride in his colleagues, stating, 'I could not be more proud of my fellow visual effects workers on the 'Avatar' sequels for standing together to secure our right to collectively bargain for more equitable compensation and benefits.'

This unionization victory follows closely after the successful unionization efforts by workers at Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Pictures last fall. While many positions in the film and TV industry, such as production designers, art directors, camera operators, editors, hair and makeup artists, have been represented by IATSE, VFX workers have historically been excluded. Therefore, this development sets a significant precedent for the industry. In fact, it marks the third instance in the past five months of VFX artists unionizing with IATSE.

Kristin Camera, a lab generalist at Lightstorm, expressed her relief and excitement about the future of VFX. She shared, 'This is a huge step forward for our industry as a whole — we've come together as a united front to affirm our worth to not just the studios, but to the public as a whole. For too long I've been scared about where VFX is going, and even considered leaving. Now I actually feel like there's a future for us, and I'm excited for it.'

The 'Avatar' franchise, created by renowned director James Cameron, has achieved immense success since its debut. 'Avatar: The Way of Water,' released in December 2022, went on to gross over $2.3 billion worldwide, making it the third highest-grossing film in history. The franchise has two more sequels planned for release in 2025, 2029, and 2031.

IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb applauded the workers' courage and emphasized the significance of the moment. He said, 'Thanks to the courage of these workers and others, we stand at the cusp of a new era in VFX. An era where every worker's contributions and value are recognized, and they can win the same rights and protections their union co-workers already have. As we move on to discuss negotiating a fair contract with management in good faith, let this moment serve as a beachhead for the entire industry.'

The unionization of these VFX artists working on the 'Avatar' films is a milestone achievement in ensuring fair treatment and representation for workers in the visual effects industry. It highlights the growing importance of collective bargaining and equitable compensation in all aspects of the entertainment industry. With this landmark decision, the future of VFX workers looks brighter, and the industry as a whole appears poised for positive change.

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