Pierre Buffin's vfx house attracts Hollywood studios

PARIS — In an ever-competitive vfx market, Buf is one of the rare companies in France to be regularly tapped by Hollywood studios to create high-end work for tentpoles, such as “The Matrix” trilogy, “Spider-Man” franchise and “The Dark Night.”

When Pierre Buffin launched Buf 26 years ago, he was just a twentysomething geek developing software in a cave. “I became passionate about animation as soon as I got my first computer,” Buffin says. “But back then, there was no software for 3D, and people in France thought creating images with a computer was like killing art.”

After nearly 10 years in the field, Buffin began working on shorts, commercials and video clips, teaming with up-and-coming French helmers, notably Michel Gondry, with whom he created the Rolling Stones’ video “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Since then Buffin has collaborated with a wide range of helmers, including Christopher Nolan, Sam Raimi, Michel Gondry, Oliver Stone, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro and Wong Kar Wai.

“Pierre Buffin is to visual effects what Jean-Pierre Jeunet is to cinema,” says Patrick

Lamassoure, managing di rector of Gallic promo org Film France. “He’s the big signature of visual effects in France.”

It’s Buffin’s quest for originality and independence that has set Buf apart and drawn the attention of his international clientele. Some of the tools he pioneered are camera mapping, stereo modeling and the “bullet time” effect, which was featured in “The Matrix” trilogy.

“People in the industry continue to see me as a black sheep because I always want to do thing my own way,” Buffin says. “I’m the only one in France exclusively working with tools that I’ve developed inhouse.”

In light of the economic downturn, Buffin says he’s looking to diversify. “It’s essential for me at this stage to initiate projects and feed the pipeline,” he says. “I can’t sit on my chair and wait for projects to come my way.”

While he primarily focuses on special effects, Buffin now is stepping up his activities in the toon arena. He created the animation on Luc Besson’s blockbuster “Arthur and the Minimoys” and its two sequels.

And he’s aiming at producing. His short, “Meme les pigeons vont au paradis,” was nominated for a 2007 Oscar. Buffin also founded production company AngeleFine to develop toons and live-action films, but he notes projects take a long time to materialize amid the current recession.

Apart from high-voltage actioners, Buffin also appreciates experimental, auteur-driven films. While working on Besson’s “Arthur” franchise, he produced Francois Ozon’s “Ricky” and Gaspar Noe’s “Into the Void.”

“I find it very stimulating to collaborate with provocative directors who come from different universes,” Buffin explains. “What I really want is to venture off the beaten path.”

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