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Visual Effects, Indeed

SOSOCAL

A workplace that literally gives you a lift

July 30, 2000|DANA CALVO

The director of human relations had her eyes de-puffed--at the company's expense. A miracle? Not at Rhythm & Hues, the character animation and visual-effects studio where she works, which has made the out-of-the-ordinary a sort of policy. The Los Angeles-based company, which won an Oscar for making a whole barnyard of animals speak so convincingly in "Babe," covers every employee for as much as $5,000 in plastic and reconstructive surgery over a lifetime, and $15,000 annually in dental and vision work, a godsend in any benefits package. So while the HR director enjoyed some free eye surgery, others at the company opted for a nose job, face lift, chin tuck and liposuction.

"A lot of them get braces or laser surgery," says President John Hughes. Want to go the homeopathic route? Hughes will cover as much as $4,000. Back tension? Two chiropractors and a masseuse visit the office weekly.

A few years after he founded the company in 1987, Hughes decided to walk away from the money-grubbing health insurance companies that rejected a multitude of his workers' claims. "Insurance companies want to cover as few people as they can," he says. "We don't see any reason why we should skimp on comforts for them. If they feel they need plastic surgery, we're going to pay for it. We don't think employees are prone to abuse medical benefits." The company is now self-insured, reimbursing doctors and facilities through an outside administrator who preserves the claims' confidentiality.

Employees' cosmetic needs are not Hughes' only concern. Digital artists, technical directors or people who spend hours creating detail-intensive images are brought on with nine weeks of paid vacation; he provides daily breakfasts and lunches for all 300 workers (with a big company-thrown barbecue every Friday); and he hands out a $750 yearly "educational supplement" for "tango dancing or drum lessons, or UCLA. It doesn't matter, as long as its got an instructor."

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