MUMBAI, INDIA – Rhythm & Hues Studios filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on February 11, 2013 – just sixteen hours before laying off an estimated 260 or more digital artists and animators from their El Segundo studio, while almost to the hour studio luminaries were accepting BAFTA Awards in London for the work the studio had just completed on Life of Pi. By July of this year, more than 71% of the staff in El Segundo had been released from employment. The studio was eventually purchased by Indian animation studio Prana, perhaps best known to American audiences for their work on Disney’s Pixie Hollow direct-to-disk movies for home audiences.
Yesterday, word is trickling out of Rhythm & Hues, India, alleging that they’ve laid off all but two animators currently working on Prana animation projects from their studio in Mumbai, and most of their animators in Hyderabad. Bouncers are said to have been brought in to handle any potential trouble during the actions at both studios, despite assurances that the Hyderabad studio would remain in operation. Only 35 people remain employed in the Mumbai facility in all, with the entire HR and recruiting department there having resigned en masse. In Hyderabad, management and production staff were laid off in addition to the animators, but no exact figures were available at press time.
While layoffs are a way of life at motion picture animation studios, they’re much more significant in India – studio workers there are not contractors, they’re all made permanent staff. A reduction of this size in this manner suggests that Rhythm & Hues is continuing its downward spiral into oblivion. Rumor has it that the studio had another contract pulled out from under them by Prime Focus, who had originally been discussing giving them significant work to do on Sin City 2. Prime Focus allegedly withdrew the offer, threatening Rhythm & Hues with a law suit if materials related to the show were not returned.
Rhythm & Hues Studio has been making motion picture history for decades, winning Academy and BAFTA Awards for their groundbreaking work in visual effects on such films as Babe, and most recently for the work they did on Life of Pi. While studio luminaries were accepting their BAFTA Awards in London in February of this year, their compatriots at home were receiving pink slips via email that Sunday night, owing to the studio having filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It is surmised by some former employees that the layoffs and the awards ceremony happened within hours of each other.
Law suits followed – employers who must lay off employees due to impeding bankruptcy are required to give 60 days notice. The Rhythm & Hues employees in the El Segundo studio received only 16 hours notice. The studio’s problems are endemic to the entire computer animation industry, however, as profit margins are forced razor thin by the production companies who hire them, to the point where being pushed out of business entirely is a real and continuous threat studios face. The first round of layoffs in February sparked protests at the Academy Awards ceremonies this year in an attempt to bring attention to the plight of the computer graphics industry workers who, in the end, are the ones who suffer the most.
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