Biz booms as vfx house takes on production management

Visual effects giant Industrial Light & Magic has unveiled a packed slate of tentpoles extending well into 2012, including sequels to some of its recent blockbusters.

The Lucasfilm company has been able to sustain this busy schedule by taking on production management chores that used to be performed by studios’ own visual effects departments.

In this new role, ILM becomes the key vendor and assumes responsibility for shots but subcontracts many out to trusted vendors, explained company prexy Lynwen Brennan.

“We’re supervising a lot of work so that we’re able to work with our facility (in San Francisco) and our facility in Singapore as well as third-party partners that we have stable relationships with. The keyword there is stable.”

For clients, said Brennan, “The benefit is you know you’re getting the ILM supervision of your work.”

ILM has remained among the world’s top vfx studios for decades, despite the high labor costs of the Bay Area and the lack of tax incentives that drive work to other competitors.

Company has not been immune from those pressures, though. ILM has built up its Singapore branch and is constructing a purpose-built facility there. At the same time it has been strengthening relationships with overseas subcontractors, notably Pixomondo.

Projects on ILM’s books:

• “Super 8″ (Paramount) — Kim Libreri (“The Matrix Revolutions,” “Speed Racer”) is vfx supervisor for helmer J.J. Abrams.

• “I Am Number Four” (DreamWorks-Disney) — Bill George(“Twilight,” “Evan Almighty”) is supervisor. Helmer is D.J. Caruso.

• “Cowboys and Aliens” (DreamWorks, Universal/Paramount) — Roger Guyett (“Star Trek,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”) is supervisor on director Jon Favreau’s genre mashup.

• “Transformers 3″ (Paramount) — Scott Farrar, who was supervisor on the first two pics in Michael Bay’s blockbuster series, returns. Jeff White has been upped to associate vfx supervisor.

• “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” (Disney) — Ben Snow (“Iron Man 2″) and Charlie Gibson (“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”). Taking over helming duties on Jerry Bruckheimer’s franchise is Rob Marshall, replacing Gore Verbinski.

• “Rango” (Paramount) — Verbinski’s surreal animated Western reunites the helmer with vfx supervisor John Knoll and animation supervisor Hal Hickel from his “Pirates 2.” Tim Alexander is vfx supervisor alongside Knoll.

• “Red Tails” — Lucasfilm’s feature on the Tuskegee Airmen has Russell Earl (“Star Trek”) as vfx supervisor and newly promoted artist Craig Hammack as associate vfx supervisor.

• “Battleship” (Universal) — Grady Cofer (“There Will Be Blood”) and Pablo Helman (“The Last Airbender”) share vfx supervisor duties on Peter Berg’s actioner.

Knoll also is overseeing 3D conversion of the “Star Wars” pics, starting with “Episode I — The Phantom Menace.” Work is being done by outside vendors with ILM supervision.

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