If Life After Pi tends to skew toward hagiography, it’s not without reason. Scott Leberecht’s short documentary focuses on the fate of VFX vendor Rhythm & Hues, whose Oscar win for Life of Pi came just eleven days after the company filed for bankruptcy. Their tale, told here through talking head interviews with (former) staff, is emblematic of the uneasy business model driving digital artists toward self-destruction.
Sweet and simple graphics show the state of an industry where six major studios seek the cheapest price in an international marketplace where tax incentives ensure any living that’s to be made in this gig is to be done with no fixed home. Leberecht’s simply-shot interviews aim for the emotional tales of families torn apart by the industry’s instability; given his own background in VFX—he also directed the offbeat, underseen horror Midnight Son—it’s not hard to see why.
It’s not for nothing that it’s streaming free in the space of a lunch break: this is a film that ought to be seen for the discussion it breeds, and the reminder it is of the people whose lives are given to helping us escape ours.
Those who remember the green screen avatars—“this is what movies look like without VFX”—that populated social media in the wake of Life of Pi’s Oscar win might remember that it was more in the wake of Ang Lee and Claudio Mirandi’s failure to thank their digital team. If Life After Pi makes its foremost impact on the sadness of its story, it’s the undercurrent of anger that keeps it in mind. As much as Rhythm & Hues co-founder John Hughes—no, not that one—might come close to tears in describing how he feels he’s let his staff down, the frustrations at a system that have led him there are clear.
“In the live-action version of filmmaking, everything is paid by the hour,” notes one digital artist; it’s in the perception of VFX as a mechanical and not human process, the movie suggests, that Hollywood has failed to give these people their due. Life After Pi is a short, sweet, simple effort to do just that. It’s not for nothing that it’s streaming free in the space of a lunch break: this is a film that ought to be seen for the discussion it breeds, and the reminder it is of the people whose lives are given to helping us escape ours.