Visual effects house Origin Digital Studios is opening for business in Burbank, even as VFX companies increasingly flee Los Angeles for more enticingly incentivized cities. The new mid-sized indie studio is backed by Miami-based Lincoln Road Advisors and already has a key strategic partnership in place, with Origin HQ operating out of a Fotokem facility in Burbank and its NY outpost fiber-connected to Fotokem’s network.
Origin is headed by president Mark Miller, the Emmy-nominated VFX veteran who previously held exec posts at Pixomondo, Eden FX, and Digital Magic and is a founding member of the Visual Effects Society (VES). He should know the pains and pitfalls of the current VFX landscape, grown increasingly tumultuous in recent years. Earlier this month, the monster merger of VFX houses Prime Focus World and Reliance MediaWorks marked an industry shift toward global consolidation. Read More »
UPDATED: Warner Bros and Village Roadshow were set to open the Wachowskis’ sci-fier Jupiter Ascending on July 18 after moving it up by a week in the summer 2014 tentpole calendar back in December. Now the actioner starring Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis won’t fly into theaters until February 6, 2015. WB’s action pic Run All Night, starring Liam Neeson as a hitman protecting his family, had occupied that February date but has been moved off the schedule completely as Jupiter slides into its place. I hear the Wachowskis needed more time to complete visual effects work on their CG-heavy space epic, which spans intergalactic worlds and follows the story of a woman (Kunis) who links up with a space warrior (Tatum) and learns she’s the heir to Earth. The shift to February now pits Jupiter Ascending against Johnny Depp in Lionsgate’s Mortdecai and Universal’s fantasy actioner Seventh Son, which ironically endured multiple date changes and millions of dollars in extra fees when its own VFX schedule was thrown into crisis by the Rhythm & Hues bankruptcy.
Related: Hot Trailer: The Wachowskis’ ‘Jupiter Ascending’
Sony Pictures Imageworks announced late Thursday that its headquarters will relocate to Vancouver, leaving the fate of its 270 Culver City VFX workers in question. The Oscar-winning VFX and digital animation wing of Sony recently handled effects on WB’s Tom Cruise sci-fier Edge of Tomorrow and Sony-Columbia’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Its current and future big-ticket projects include Disney/Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy, Columbia’s Pixels, the Angry Birds movie, and Sony’s Hotel Transylvania 2 and the untitled Smurfs sequel — all of which will be spearheaded by the Vancouver team as the company preps its move into a new 74,000-square-foot state of the art facility in Vancouver’s Pacific Centre.
Related: HBO, City Of LA, & Unions Praise Passage Of New Film & TV Tax Credit Bill
A smaller LA-area office will remain as the headquarters shift is completed next year, though it’s unclear how many current employees will make the move. Dozens of staffers from SPI’s Southern California office were relocated in January to Vancouver, where SPI first set up shop in 2010 with just 80 artists. The move to the new Canadian digs, which can accommodate up to 700 employees, comes as ongoing concerns grow among some VFX pros that British Columbia’s generous 58% tax incentives could lure even more runaway VFX production to the region, away from hubs like Los Angeles.
“The 58.4% subsidy for BC-resident VFX artists shows how unsustainable subsidies have become and how expensive it would be for states like California to compete in the ‘race to the bottom,’” said VFX activist Daniel Lay, who runs the VFX Soldier blog. “Even [the passage of] California state bill AB1839 would probably do little to stem the effects of VFX runaway production to B.C. because of how much higher it is. Furthermore, B.C. is starting to lose their advantage to Quebec, which not only matches BC’s labor subsidies but provides 25% on non-labor costs also.” Read More »
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 Arts and Technicians has announced a VFX rally for the same corner from 1-3 PM Sunday as the Academy Awards crowd closes in on the Dolby Theatre. ADAPT says the event “supports legal action to help end the current subsidy race that is damaging the visual effects and film industries.” The group is urging protesters to wear green in support of the cause. Last year’s rally came in the wake of VFX house Rhythm & Hues filing for bankruptcy protection, two weeks before Ang Lee’s Life Of Pi — for which R&H did the effects work — picked up the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. Since then, ADAPT has continued to battle for Hollywood’s VFX industry as many of its jobs head to other countries that subsidize the work. A town hall meeting in June focused on the industry’s efforts to unionize, and VFX pros picketed in November near the DreamWorks Animation campus while President Obama was visiting there.
Hot Trailer: Rhythm & Hues Docu ‘Life After Pi’
Vancouver-based 3D specialists Gener8 Media is expanding into VFX postproduction with a newly created division called The Feder8tion, to be headed by 20th Century Fox veteran Jennifer Meislohn. She comes to the company after almost a decade at Fox, where she was VP Visual Effects overseeing films like the Oscar-winning Life Of Pi, Chronicle, Night At The Museum, and the converted Titanic 3D. Gener8′s new VFX department will specialize in composite, set extension, and environment visual effects and is planning on adding 30 staffers by summer’s end. “I’ve seen firsthand the impact that Gener8 has had on Hollywood’s 3D conversion industry,” said Meislohn. “From a groundbreaking process and technology to a growing list of major studio clients and films, Gener8 is fast becoming recognized as a key player for unbeatable quality and service. I’m very excited to get The Feder8tion up and running and help expand the business in a broader direction.” Gener8 has established itself in the field of 3D with proprietary stereo conversion services and credits on The Amazing Spider-Man, Harry Potter, Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3 as well as developing cloud-based data management via its Cumul8 system.
Related: Gener8 Lands Financing For 3D Conversion
The agency has signed new client Digital Domain 3.0 as the visual effects company continues to bounce back out of a 2012 bankruptcy. Digital Domain’s current iteration was acquired last year by Sun Innovations which appointed Daniel Seah as CEO. WME will advise on continued growth and expansion in visual effects, virtual performance productions like 2012′s Tupac resurrection at Coachella, and commercials. The agency will also advise in the area of film financing following Digital Domain’s test-run with Lionsgate’s Ender’s Game. Digital Domain took a co-producer credit and provided cash and VFX for the $110M sci-fier, in which it was an equity stakeholder. Digital Domain 3.0 is currently working on Disney’s Maleficent and is Oscar-nominated for Marvel’s Iron Man 3.
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. Read More »
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? Read More »
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.
Global Showbiz Watch episode 18 (.MP3 version)
Global Showbiz Watch episode 18 (.M4A version) Read More »
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:
Related: Obama At DreamWorks Animation For Speech On Economy (LIVE)
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.” Read More »
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.”
Obama Traffic Snarl Alert: Street Closures Set
‘Good Dinosaur’ Delay Leads To Pink Slips At Pixar
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.
Read More »
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. “The debtor’s business is fundamentally strong. In past several months (sic), the debtor has secured several profitable contracts from influential clients in the automotive and sports industries, among others,” Zviah Elder said in an affidavit (read it here) filed on September 17. Gravity has “ just finished up a feature film for The Weinstein Company and they are presently working on four commercials. They will continue working on these projects without interruption,” Elder told me today. The company filed a bankruptcy petition (read it here) in federal court in NY this week under its formal corporate name of Rhinoceros Visual Effects and Design. The move was designed to evade eviction from their Madison Avenue offices over a dispute with the landlord in which they now owe $464,381 plus legal fees. Gravity says they don’t have that money right now but they could pay it off in time. As the Chapter 11 process weaves through the courts, the NYC and Santa Monica-based Gravity will likely be moving NYC offices before the end of the year but they’re not closing up shop, says their CEO in this … Read More »
Digital Domain 3.0, the latest iteration of the VFX company reborn out of the ashes of its 2012 bankruptcy, has promoted two execs to President. Terry Clotiaux, who served as EP of Digital Domain’s Feature Film division from 2007 to 2009 before departing to rival Prime Focus overseeing work on films including Avatar, Tron, and Men In Black 3, returned to the company in March and has now been promoted to President of Feature Film Production. In his new post he’ll oversee all VFX feature film production for Digital Domain 3.0′s California and Vancouver locations. Meanwhile, Rich Flier has been upped to President of Advertising & Games and will now oversee all ad and vidgame VFX and production at Digital Domain 3.0 and Mothership. He’s been with the company since 2011 when he joined as Executive Producer and was promoted to VP in 2012. Digital Domain 3.0 co-produced Oddlot and Summit/Lionsgate’s upcoming sci-fi adaptation Ender’s Game.
Big changes at Digital Domain after Hong Kong-based holding company Sun Innovation paid $50.5M for the parent of Galloping Horse, a film and TV firm that owned 70% of the VFX house. Ed Ulbrich, who has been at Digital Domain since director James Cameron helped to found it in 1993, has stepped down as CEO to become a creative consultant. He will continue working as a producer on Lionsgate’s Ender’s Game. Replacing him in the top job is Sun’s Daniel Seah who has managed projects in entertainment, media, energy, and environmental protection and technology, the compnay says. The changes follow Sun’s acquisition of Galloping Horse US, the Beijing company that partnered with Reliance MediaWorks to purchase Digital Domain out of bankruptcy in 2012. Reliance will continue to own a minority stake in the company, now dubbed “Digital Domain 3.0.” It has shaped effects for Titanic, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, the Transformers trilogy and TRON: Legacy.
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 years to the western NY city. Funding comes from a $4.5M allotment awarded by the state of New York from its $1B Buffalo Billion Investment Development Plan. In 2012, Cuomo upped post-production incentives from 10% to 30% in the metropolitan NY region and 35% in upstate NY; in April 2013, he raised filming and post-production tax credits to as much as 45% for qualified productions.
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.
Related: Produced By Conference: Pros Forecast The Future Of VFX, Post-Rhythm & Hues
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. Read More »
VFX specialist Prime Focus has offices in LA, NY, Vancouver, London and Mumbai, and earlier this week added Beijing to its international outposts. Its global footprint has made it more immune to the problems U.S.-based VXF firms like Rhythm & Hues have had sustaining a viable business model. Today, Prime Focus is announcing a $53M equity infusion from Macquarie Capital. The money will be deployed in two phases, with $38M committed in the first phase and $15M in a second transactional phase. Prime Focus says the funds will go towards the build-out of its global creative services platform and near-term strategic acquisitions. The company provides visual effects, animation and stereo View-D conversion services. Recent credits include stereo VFX, 3D conversion and archive footage colorization work on Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby as well as on World War Z.
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.” Read More »
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 VFX division uFX offering up to 40% of a project’s VFX budget for work done in-house. CEO Adrian Politowski announced the sizable offer today in Cannes. Brussels-based uMedia has additional international offices in LA, London, and Paris but its new scheme is made possible by a Belgian tax shelter. Eligible productions must spend a minimum of €50,000 through Belgium and must be a feature film, a TV movie, a TV series or documentary with a majority of European cast, crew and financing in place. The company’s recent credits include work on the Weinstein Company’s Grace Of Monaco and DreamWorks’ WikiLeaks pic The Fifth Estate.
Related: Visual Effects Society Calls For Inaugural VFX Congress, Larger Tax Incentives