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Italian vfx shops thrive by diversifying

Effects studios getting creative to say alive

ROME — It’s a tall order to make visual effects that can qualify as special in a land that hasn’t spawned a sci-fi, fantasy, disaster or war movie in ages.

But rather than succumb to Italian cinema’s current scarcity of effects extravaganzas, Italo vfx houses have been fueling their ambitions by becoming production studios and opening schools where local artists can utilize their skills and supplement their incomes.

At Turin’s Lumiq Studios, located on a sprawling campus known as the Virtual Reality and Multi Media Park, a donkey toon kicked up a 100-strong team of artists and techies, many of them graduates of its on-site digital entertainment university.

“We didn’t start out as producers,” says Carlo Alfano, head of character animation at Lumiq, the 6-year-old f/x house on the refurbished lot where “Cabiria,” the classic 1914 Roman war epic, was shot.

“For us it’s a market necessity to use our infrastructure and equipment to produce our own projects by setting up European co-productions,” he adds.

The result is “Donkey Xote,” the CG-animated retelling of the Cervantes classic co-produced by Lumiq and Spain’s Filmax, touted initially as Europe’s answer to “Shrek.”

The e15 million ($20 million) picaresque pic was animated entirely in Italy. That can be considered an accomplishment in itself, though Lumiq and Filmax have hardly been braying their way to the bank (see sidebar, page A12).

“‘Donkey Xote’ stands as testimony that both Lumiq and Italy can produce a high-profile computer-generated pic,” enthuses Giulietta Fara, co-topper of Italy’s Future Film Festival, the country’s prominent fest dedicated to global f/x pics.

“Regardless of its box office results, the fact that they completed a film of this scope represents a big success,” she says.

Lumiq is becoming an integral part of a drive by Turin and the surrounding Northern Italian Piedmont region to become an alternate filmmaking hub to Rome. But that hasn’t stopped Alfano from teaming up on his next project with Rome-based Proxima, an f/x house with which Lumiq shares a similar business model.

“You can’t stay afloat by just providing special effects services in Italy,” laments Proxima topper Claudio Napoli. So Proxima, which is located on Rome’s Cinecitta lot and provides f/x tweaks for many prominent Italian pics including recent Nanni Moretti starrer “Quiet Chaos,” has set up its own school and a production shingle called Cydonia.

Lumiq and Cydonia have now teamed up on a TV sitcom toon titled “L.O.L.,” an acronym for “Lot of Laughing,” being helmed by Italo toonmeister Guido Manuli. “L.O.L.” turns on a contempo Italo family comprising a divorced female taxi driver living with a divorce lawyer and their respective children from previous marriages.

Proxima branched into production four years ago by taking a stake in Saverio Costanzo’s much-prized drama about a Palestinian family, “Private.” Proxima provided color correction and transfer from digital to film.

More recently it co-produced an English-language slasher titled “Visions” shot by helmer Luigi Cecinelli in Italy but made to look by Proxima “as if it were shot in ‘Anywhere, U.S.A.,'” Napoli boasts.

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