The Siggraph computer graphics conference and trade show, long the most important confab for the digital visual effects business, returns to the Los Angeles Convention Center this week. But the L.A. region is no longer the hub of vfx production that made it Siggraph’s favorite home for many years.
Visual effects production has largely fled to Vancouver and other locales with richer subsidies, leaving only a modest presence in L.A.
One small vfx company, though, is bucking the trend, not only staying in SoCal but moving to a newly revitalized downtown Los Angeles.
Locktix is a boutique vfx company, specializing in “911” visual effects emergencies — a shot or group of shots that has to be completed within days, sometimes within hours. Sometimes that’s last-minute additions, sometimes it’s adjusting shots in trailers to address MPAA notes, sometimes it’s alternate cuts for different markets. It’s recent credits include “Ted 2,” “Nightcrawler” and “Wet Hot American Summer.”
The company was outgrowing its space in Santa Monica. “We were looking for was more power, more space, more parking — that was challenging to find in Santa Monica,” Locktix owner Gresham Lochner told Variety.
Power is a particular concern, even for a small vfx firm. The “machine room” for a visual effects company holds the servers for complex CG rendering. A machine room needs a lot of power for the servers and for air conditioning to keep them cool.
Lochner didn’t want to follow most of the vfx business out of town in search of a vfx subsidy. “For me, a tax subsidy shouldn’t be a main part of your business model,” he said. “You should be able to operate without anyone subsidizing your business. So that’s the way we structured things internally, so we wouldn’t have to rely on subsidies to survive.” He also felt that being close to the editorial facilities in L.A. was advantageous; he and his team could run across town to those editing bays as needed.
Lochner looked at spaces in Hollywood, Venice, El Segundo, Culver City and Burbank but couldn’t find anything the right size with the necessities. Then he checked out a space on East 9th Street in downtown L.A., where audio equipment maker Audyssey had space available to sublease. There was ample space, parking and power. Audyssey director Tyson Yaberg said, “The building is built for a high capacity of occupants but currently I believe occupancy is still relatively low, leaving plenty of resources, such as power, available.”
Lochner said: “This is the Fashion District, so for us it’s kind of unusual for a visual effects company to move down to this area, but that just screamed opportunity.” They were able to modify their sub-leased space in just under two months and moved in days later.
Downtown L.A. has long had a sketchy reputation, but that is turning around fast, thanks in part to the area’s burgeoning food and arts scenes, which were draws for Locktix. Nicholas Rosselot, comp lead for Locktix, said: “There’s a lot of art everywhere. There’s a big community. I feel like I belong here.” Public transportation is plentiful, and some staffers take trains to work, but when they’re on deadline they work late, and need to commute by car, so the plentiful parking is crucial.”
There are some downsides to moving into L.A.’s urban core. Tarlton says: “The challenge with Los Angeles is something that we found in the city’s gross receipt tax … that is something that you have to be aware of when moving to the city of Los Angeles; places like Santa Monica don’t have that.”
But Locktix is blazing a path other vfx and high-tech entertainment companies may find tempting — at least until Fashion District rents get too high. When that happens, though, there are likely to be other parts of downtown available to such urban pioneers.