A year ago yesterday, an estimated 400-plus supporters of the visual effects industry gathered at Hollywood and Vine as the glitterati walked the Oscar red carpet just blocks away. Get ready for Round 2. The Association of Digital …
EXCLUSIVE: Film producer Cybill Lui (After the Dark) has launched L.A.-based production co. Anova Pictures and struck a strategic partnership with visual effects house Mr. X. The Toronto and NY-based digital studio’s recent projects include Pacific Rim, TRON: Legacy, and upcoming pics RoboCop and Pompeii. As part of their pact Mr. X will provide digital effects work on Anova projects while Hong Kong-born Lui advises on the VFX company’s expansion into L.A.-based and global features and high-concept television. “With our push to emerge on a more global filmmaking landscape, we are truly excited about this strategic partnership with Cybill and Anova Pictures. We’ve been lucky enough to grow our business during a tough time in the industry, so we’re looking to capitalize on the success we’ve had and keep building on a global scale,” said Mr. X President Dennis Berardi. Anova’s slate will focus on $5M-$40M features and television projects for the domestic and international markets including China, with an eye towards established and emerging visionary filmmakers.
Thomas J. McLean is an AwardsLine contributor.
Expect Gravity to be as powerful and inevitable a force in the visual-effects category at this year’s Oscars as, well, gravity. Offering more than just snazzy visuals — about 95% of what’s on screen is digital — Gravity’s visual-effects supervisor Tim Webber fulfilled many artists’ dreams by working from the start with director Alfonso Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to completely embed the effects into the storytelling and filmmaking process.
The space drama also has some serious cachet as a more artistic use of effects — a quality Academy voters have rewarded recently with trophies for Life of Pi, Hugo and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. With Gravity offering a seemingly irresistible complete package, it looks as if the other nine Academy short-list contenders will just have to aspire to impress the effects branch enough at the Jan. 9 bake-off to score one of five Oscar nominations on Jan. 16.
In addition to Gravity, the short list includes Elysium, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger, Oblivion, Star Trek Into Darkness, Thor: The Dark World, Pacific Rim and World War Z. The most obvious question about the list is: How did the year’s highest-profile boxoffice dud, The Lone Ranger, make the cut and Man of Steel did not?
Deadline’s International Editor Nancy Tartaglione talks in this week’s podcast with host David Bloom about winnin’ time on the Continent, as the prizes are handed out in the British Independent Film Awards and the European Film Awards, including wins for Oscar contenders The Act Of Killing, The Great Beauty, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, The Broken Circle Breakdown and Metro Manila.
Separately, David and Nancy take a look at just-unveiled British tax credits that should be a boon to film projects of all budget sizes and also may entice more overseas visual effects work to the country’s post-production houses. They also applaud the innovative new interactive trailer the BBC has trotted out to tout the imminent return to air of Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, two years after its last episode aired.
VFX artists and supporters have gathered in Glendale for today’s “Go Green” rally organized around President Obama‘s visit to DreamWorks Animation. (The President is slated to address an audience on the closed DWA campus shortly; look for coverage from Deadline’s Dominic Patten.) Security was in place around DWA as the “Go Green” rally marched down Flower Street:
Inside the DWA event, new L.A. film czar Tom Sherak said of the protesters: “This situation didn’t happen overnight. We have to find a way to entice these companies to stay here.”
UPDATE: Organizers of the VFX artists’ protest scheduled during President Obama’s visit to DreamWorks Animation on Tuesday say they now plan to march between Griffith Manor Park and the street. The group has also announced the name of its CVD campaign coalition: Association of Digital Artists, Professionals & Technicians (ADAPT).
PREVIOUS, 1:34 PM: Barack Obama’s visit to DreamWorks Animation tomorrow will be matched by a protest by the VFX professionals behind an anti-subsidy tariff campaign, but the organizers say they don’t have the president — or DWA head Jeffrey Katzenberg – in their sights. “We are not trying to embarrass DreamWorks Animation at all,” the industry blogger known as VFX Soldier told Deadline. “This is about raising awareness about what is happening outside the walls of DreamWorks: The absolute collapse of VFX employment.”
Obama is in town today and Tuesday for midterm election fundraisers as well as his DWA appearance. After a studio tour and a meeting with industry leaders, Obama is expected to speak about the economy and the strength of the entertainment industry in his DWA address scheduled for 12:15 PM Tuesday. During his DWA visit VFX supporters will gather just under a mile away at Glendale’s Griffith Manor Park. The VFX activists are aghast that Obama would praise employment at a studio hit by layoffs in the last year to an animation and VFX community that’s struggling to survive. Pink slips delivered by DWA earlier this year were the result of changes in the studio’s production schedule, not outsourcing or similar activities. Sources tell Deadline that many of those let go from DWA have since been rehired as the studio has new films in the pipeline. Still, everyone in VFX feels the instability of the industry. “We’re trying to prevent the embarrassment,” said VFX Soldier. “Why would you go to L.A.? This is ground zero.”
While the president won’t see the protesting VFXers, the White House is clearly sensitive to perception about Obama speaking at the HQ of his biggest donor bundler. “DreamWorks obviously is a thriving business and is creating lots of jobs in Southern California and the fact of the matter is Mr. Katzenberg’s support for the president’s policies has no bearing on our decision to visit there. Rather, it’s an opportunity to highlight the success of one business and the success that they’re having in creating jobs in Southern California,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest today on Air Force One according to pool reports. Similar to the fundraiser last week for Gov. Jerry Brown at Disney Studios boss Alan Horn’s home, a number of other studio chiefs such as Warner Bros’ Kevin Tsujihara and CBS’ Les Moonves are expected to attend Obama’s speech at DWA.
Gravity Post sought the shelter of Chapter 11 protection this week but the veteran VFX company isn’t going out of business. And, unlike other troubled VFX firms in recent months, no layoffs are planned either. …
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo today announced the creation of a new post-production, VFX, and animation company to be established at the Tri-Main Center in Buffalo, NY. Empire Visual Effects and Daemen College will partner on the project which is expected to bring 150 new jobs within five …
When a VFX town hall was held back in March, the visual effects community was in a state of panic, unsure of how best to unite to battle subsidies, runaway productions, untenable working conditions and other issues endemic to the industry. A follow-up event held last night in LA (and online from San Rafael and Vancouver — watch it here) focused movement toward forming a VFX union, but it marked only slight progress for organizing efforts. With many LA VFX artists preoccupied by the work that’s draining away from the region to other subsidized cities, community meetings like this remain hung up on the kinds of nightmare stories of extreme work days and paycheck delays that keep circulating around the biz. “I bought my co-worker toothpaste because she didn’t have money to afford it,” said VFX artist Diana Marie Wells, late of infamous NewBreed VFX, who streamed in from Montreal where she’s been battling alongside other artists for payment owed.
If momentum picks up in favor of unionizing, it might stem from IATSE addressing what affects artists first: fighting for fair working conditions and payment protocol that’s lacking in the most egregious of VFX shop violators. But the process will be a long march.
Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s conference coverage.
In the wake of the mass layoffs and bankruptcy filing of the VFX house Rhythm & Hues at the same time it was winning the Oscar for the film Life of Pi, the entire future of the visual effects industry has come under scrutiny — even as Rhythm & Hues recovers under new ownership. The question of the company’s crash-and-burn while creating award-winning work led off a Produced By panel this morning entitled “The Unlocked Picture: Global Opportunities in VFX and 3D Conversion,” where the consensus was that the R&H situation was both an anomaly and a harbinger of VFX industry issues that won’t soon be going away. “It’s a tough business and changing business, and we’re right in the middle of a very tumultuous time,” said Chris DeFaria, Exec VP of digital production, animation and visual effects for Warner Bros. Pictures. While noting that Rhythm & Hues was beset by obvious cash flow problems, DeFaria maintained that the VFX business is being altered by an increasing standardization of tools and techniques and, most importantly, by more competitive financing globally. “You have an international workforce that’s mobile and capable of setting up low cost labor markets,” he noted. “There’s a big benefit in the exchange rates. These forces conspire to make it a very difficult business.”
The VFX industry has seen recent mass migrations to tax-friendly locales overseas. Until now Belgium hasn’t been one of those major runaway destinations. But European film company uMedia has unveiled a new financing deal through its …
It’s been a tense month-and-a-half for troubled VFX studio Rhythm & Hues. After filing for Chapter 11 in February, bringing global scrutiny to the tough economics of the US VFX industry, a federal bankruptcy judge today approved the company’s sale to an affiliate of India-based Prana Studios, 34×118 Holdings Inc. The new buyer won a drawn out auction for the Oscar-winning Life Of Pi company late last night with a winning bid valued at about $17 million. Prime Focus and Chinese company Brave Vision, represented by China Lion President and co-founder Jiang Yanmin, were also in the running, with Brave Vision tentatively approved today as backup bidder, pending documents to be provided to the court before final sale. (Other outlets misreported China Lion as a bidding company yesterday, but it was not involved.)
UPDATED: It’s coming down to the wire for bankrupt VFX house Rhythm & Hues. Today at 5 PM is the deadline Federal Court Judge Neil Bason set for interested buyers to submit qualified bids for the company ahead of a March 27 auction. I’m told at least four bidders will be entering the fray, including Prime Focus, Prana Animation, Psyop, and Rocket Science 3D, and possibly others. Korean company JS Communication this week dropped out as the court-approved stalking horse bidder, which would have guaranteed Rhythm & Hues a minimum bid at auction. That surprise hiccup sprang from recent failed talks between JS and studios Fox and Universal, which last month teamed to bail out Rhythm & Hues with a $17 million DIP loan. JS rep David Shim told Deadline the two studios were uncooperative when he asked for a non-binding handshake agreement to $60 million worth of work per year for three years to ensure Rhythm & Hues had financial lifeblood through a post-sale rebuilding phase. He also says he agreed to pay an additional $3M to cover operational costs for the company. But a source with knowledge of the talks claims Shim was asking for a binding guarantee as well as additional financial commitments, a tall order in an industry where production and release schedules for studio films are always potentially in flux.
Prime Focus Pulls Into China; UK May Shore Up VFX Industry
The gloomy VFX scene saw a few bright spots in the international market today. In the UK, the 2013 budget was unveiled and along with it, news that the Treasury will launch a public consultation on options to provide further support for the VFX industry via the tax system. In total, the creative industries received an extra £25M to help boost economic growth. Meanwhile, VFX specialist Prime Focus said it is setting up a Chinese joint venture with Hong Kong–based private equity group AID Partners and local partner Zhejiang Jingqi Wenhua Chuanbo Company. Prime Focus, which is listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange and has offices in the U.S., Canada, the UK and India, will invest $3M in the new operation which will provide services including 2D/3D conversion, VFX and post-production services on the mainland and in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. At the same time, AID, whose investments include Legendary Pictures and HMV Asia, has invested $10M in Prime Focus’ Netherlands subsidiary, Prime Focus World NV. The group’s credits include Shrek, Transformers 3, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2, The Smurfs and Men In Black 3.