A group of visual effects artists who work on Disney’s CGI-heavy “Avatar” films have voted to unionize with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. It marks the first time a group of “vendor-side” VFX artists have won union representation through an official National Labor Relations Board vote.
The vote came down to 57 people in favor of union representation and 19 voting against. These VFX workers are employed by a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios and work on the “Avatar” films through the Lightstorm Entertainment production company.
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“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,” said Patrick DeVaney, a post-vis coordinator at Lightstorm, in a statement.
The news comes a few months after workers at Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Pictures voted to unionize with IATSE last fall. While positions like production designers, art directors, camera operators, editors, hair and makeup artists and many more positions have been represented by IATSE across film and TV, VFX workers historically have not. The “Avatar” news marks the third VFX union with IATSE in the past five months.
“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,” said Kristin Camera, a lab generalist at Lightstorm.
Director James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” released in December 2022 and went on to gross more than $2.3 billion at the worldwide box office, the third-highest total in history. The third “Avatar” film is slated for December 2025, with more sequels in 2029 and 2031.
IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb added, “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.”
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