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Avatar VFX Artists File for Union Election Building Momentum on Growth Towards a VFX Union

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logo courtesy IATSE VFX Union

Visual Effects (VFX) workers employed by a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Studios filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for an election to unionize with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) on Thursday. The unionizing group includes 83 artists working on James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment productions, including the Avatar film series, across VFX Departments including Stage, Environments, Render, Post Viz, Sequence, Turn Over, and Kabuki. With this announcement, the Avatar VFX artists become the first “vendor-side” VFX artists in the United States to formally file with the National Labor Relations Board for a unionization election.

Environment Artist Summer Benton hopes the recent organizing successes of VFX Workers will set a new standard in the industry, “Coming together as the Avatar family, we aim to achieve improvements that will help us be able to maintain our highest quality of work in a more sustainable work and keep bringing awe and inspiration to our leadership and to VFX productions everywhere.”

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. Sequence Lab Coordinator Patrick DeVaney cited this disparity as a primary
reason for his interest in unionizing, “I am organizing because every other
department on a film is unionized and VFX is long overdue for the benefits, more
equitable pay, and respect that those other departments have earned for themselves
through collective bargaining.”

Christopher Cornejo, a Lead Asset Technical Director, explained affordable
healthcare, sustainable benefits, and a living wage are top-of-mind issues for VFX
Workers, “In March of 2023, I was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. It’s a disease that I’ll
have to deal with for the rest of my life, filled with doctors visits and medications.
Despite all of this, I’ve been fortunate enough to remain in good health and work in a
career I care about so much. However, many people in this industry and even within
this studio are not so lucky, as none of this is cheap. My goal with unionizing here is to
give all of us access to affordable healthcare, benefits, and a livable wage so that we
continue to take care of ourselves both physically and mentally while working in one
of the most fun and rewarding fields on the planet.”

Jennifer Anaya, Kabuki Lead with four years at the studio said, “We often hear studios
compare themselves to ‘family’. And when you work for years on a project like the
Avatar Sequels, your co-workers begin to feel just as close. Every one of my
coworkers has dedicated so much time, creativity and passion to make these films a
reality. So when you see them struggling to cover their health premiums, or being
overworked because they took on multiple roles, or are just scraping by on their
wages… you cannot keep silent. We as VFX workers are not replaceable and deserve
to be protected. We can do better, united together.”

Citing this announcement in addition to in-house VFX staffers for Marvel and Walt
Disney Pictures voting unanimously to unionize in September and October
respectively, as well as DNEG workers successfully unionizing in British Columbia in
November, IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb remarked on the historic
momentum of the VFX Union movement, “We stand at the cusp of a new era in the
VFX industry. An era where every worker is valued, where their contributions are
acknowledged, and their rights fiercely protected. This moment is a beacon for the
entire industry.”

“Workers interested in being part of this historic movement should contact an IATSE
organizer at VFXunion.org,” he added.

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