LOS ANGELES, CA — Visual effects (VFX) artists employed by a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios, best known for working on James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ film series through Lightstorm Entertainment productions, have voted to unionize with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the union announced Wednesday. In the unionization election held by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), 57 voted in favor of union representation and 19 voted against.
With this announcement, the ‘Avatar’ VFX artists become the first ‘vendor-side’ VFX artists in the United States to win union representation through an official NLRB election. Patrick DeVaney, PostVis Coordinator with 4 years at Lightstorm, expressed pride in the collective action, “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.”
Jennifer Anaya, Kabuki Lead with 4 years at the studio explained affordable healthcare, sustainable benefits, and a living wage are top-of-mind issues for hopeful VFX Workers, “Today’s union victory will bring up many emotions and thoughts, but what I feel the most in this moment is hope. I now have hope that with this union, my fellow artists and I can work together to make LEI better and stronger for everyone. There is hope that our words can now be put into action because our united voices cannot be ignored. I hope that our efforts will empower others at studios around the world to strive for fair and equal pay, better benefits and sustainable work conditions. And for the first time in my career, I have hope for my future…because I finally have a say in it. What was once thought of as a pipedream is now a reality, and I hope the legacy of this union will benefit future VFX artists for years to come.”
While positions like Production Designers/Art Directors, Camera Operators, Sound, Editors, Hair and Makeup Artists, Costumes / Wardrobe, Script Supervisors, Grips, Lighting, Props, and Paint, among others, have historically been represented by IATSE in motion picture and television, workers in VFX classifications historically have not. Kristin Camera, Lab Generalist with 2.5 years at Lightstorm, expressed her enthusiasm, “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 unionization of the ‘Avatar’ VFX artists comes on the heels of similar successful efforts across the industry, including in-house VFX staffers for Marvel and Walt Disney Pictures voting unanimously to organize, and DNEG workers organizing in British Columbia, Canada. Though previous efforts to organize VFX unions in recent years largely stalled, the ‘Avatar’ VFX announcement becomes the fourth major organizing win for IATSE in the space less than six months after Marvel VFX staffers became the first unit of dedicated VFX workers to unionize with IATSE since VFX was commercialized nearly a half-century ago.
Jesse McAlister, Lead Creature & Character Artist with 5 years at the studio, reflected on the new opportunities, “I look forward to IATSE representation and the stewardship of the bargaining unit and their desire to fight for the people who also matter in this production. I look forward to a 401k and retirement. I look forward to fair wages and I look forward to better health care for my colleagues. I am so proud to have had the opportunity to exercise my rights as a citizen and as a working professional. Cheers to the future of VFX our families and our coworkers.”
IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb commented on the historic momentum of the VFX Union movement, “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.”
Workers interested in being part of this historic movement should contact an IATSE organizer at VFXunion.org.