Base FX @ 10: A Crazy Dream Became China’s Leading VFX Studio

Star Wars Base FX
Courtesy of Disney

Beijing-based company aims to lead the Chinese f/x biz into an era of local tentpoles

Christopher Bremble remembers clearly the first piece of advice he received from someone already on the ground in Beijing when he decided to set up Base FX there 10 years ago.

Over dinner in the Chinese capital, Bremble’s guest, an industry veteran, tried to keep a straight face as he declared: “It’s still not too late to get out!”

Bremble widely ignored that advice. A decade later, the cinema industry in the world’s second-largest economy is unrecognizable, with grosses growing on average by around 48% per year. And Base FX has placed itself at the forefront of the industry’s development in China.

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Base entered a deal with Industrial Light & Magic nine years ago. It is exclusive to ILM on Hollywood studio films, and in exchange, ILM has helped Base sharpen its skills. Base has been a major contributor to ILM’s biggest tentpoles, including the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which received an Oscar nom for visual effects.

In television, Base has collected three Emmys, including awards for “Black Sails” and “Boardwalk Empire.” There’s also been a spread of its own work in Chinese and independent cinema, including local hit “Monster Hunt,” the second-highest grosser in Chinese history with an estimated $385 million.

“I plead insanity, but from my first day in China I realized the world was coming here.”
Christopher Bremble

From an initial intake of around eight staff, Base now boasts around 500 employees. It has production studios in Beijing, Wuxi and Xiamen and has an office in Los Angeles. In early 2016, the sprawling China Media Capital investment fund took a minor stake in the company, as Base seeks to further its reach into China’s domestic film market. With CMC’s help, Base hopes to move into animated features, through its new Base Media operation.

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“I plead insanity,” says Bremble. “But from my first day in China I realized the world was coming here. The bar just keeps going up and up and up.” It’s a far cry from the world of small-budget features that he found in China when he launched the company. “No one wants low-end work anymore. Even TV these days is premium work.

“So we have grown as the needs of the industry have changed. But we are highly specialized, which is what makes us different. We are really good at the one thing we do.”

Gretchen Libby, executive in charge, global studios, at Industrial Light & Magic, first met Bremble in Beijing in 2007 as her company was looking for outsourcing partners. “They spoke the same tech and creative language,” she says. “We just saw a lot of potential working with them.”

Libby says once the companies began to collaborate, she was impressed by the amount of training Base FX gave its team of creatives, spanning not only the technical side of the business, but also English language and basic workplace skills. (Bremble confirms that Base had to teach its artists how to collaborate.)

Hong Kong-born director Raman Hui cut his creative teeth on the “Shrek” franchise before returning East, taking charge of “Monster Hunt” and turning to Base FX for support. “What makes Base unique is a harmonic blend of expertise from the West,” Hui says. “The artists in China are learning so much from them and they have grown to become individual artists with their own ideas.”

It was that sort of potential for a local company that looks global that led to the deal with China Media Capital, according to the company’s managing director Clark Xu. “A look at the top box office performers in China show you how much they have relied on vfx,” Xu says. “Eventually the local audience’s connection emotionally will take this away from Hollywood.

From genre to genre, Chinese films are becoming more competitive so what we are trying to do with Base going forward is to create these sci-fi and disaster films and things that haven’t really been made here before.” Bremble puts his company’s success down to relationships they have forged on opposite ends of the filmmaking world.

“The exciting thing for us is asking ourselves how are we going to do this, this and this” he says. “The artists love it and at the same time it’s a balance. “We have one foot firmly in Hollywood but we’re at the forefront of things in China as well.”

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