How is this possible? Well, it's mainly because visual effects is a flawed industry with a business model that is impossible to succeed in. In order to save money, movie studios tend to contract VFX companies on a "fixed fee," meaning that after a certain amount of takes, the VFX guys are forced to cover the costs. So, when an unfilmable picture like Life of Pi requires extra work, the visual companies end up "paying for the movie." In the end, Rhythm & Hues didn't see a penny from those $600 million.
Rhythm & Hues/Fox 2000 Pictures/20th Century Fox
"No, no, do it again! What part of 'whiskers that flow like air from the shrubs' don't you get?"
R&H isn't the only company in this situation -- remember how the Hologram Tupac company went under? This is an ongoing trend. Working at a visual effects company is apparently one of the worst jobs in Hollywood, slightly behind the guy who shaves Adam Sandler's pubes. The working conditions are grueling, the teams are forced to work several all-nighters and never earn overtime, the jobs have no benefits or retirement plans. On top of that, they have to compete with foreign studios subsidized by their governments.
So why does anyone still work in visual effects, then? According to VFX veteran Scott Ross, many of these guys aren't doing it for the money, but because they're geeked out about getting to work on Star Wars or Avatar.
Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox
"Yep, this was worth it."