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F/x wizards keep wands

ESC to remain in WB barn

ESC Entertainment won’t be escaping from Warner Bros. anytime soon.

Initial plans called for the effects facility, formed by Warner Bros. in 2001 to tackle the thousands of computer-generated effects shots required for “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions,” to shutter after its work on the sci-fi sequels was completed. But the studio has decided to keep ESC open for business once final shots for “Revolutions” are delivered in September.

Warner Bros. will continue to utilize the company, based outside San Francisco, not as a separate revenue-generating business but as a high-end effects facility to work on the studio’s own tentpole pics and as an adviser when it comes to the studio’s f/x needs.

Doors open

Although it won’t actively bid on other studios’ pics, ESC will keep its doors open to outside projects, should studios need a facility to create shots.

ESC already is set to serve as the lead effects house on “Catwoman,” which Warners is prepping for a summer 2004 release. It is being eyed to create visuals for actioners “Constantine” and “Superman.”

Company won’t necessarily serve as the lead effects house on every Warners tentpole, with studio execs guaranteeing much of its f/x requirements will be handled by outside vendors.

ESC has 250 artists on staff creating effects sequences for “The Matrix Revolutions,” which bows in November. Final shots for the pic are expected to be delivered sometime in September, after which ESC will move on to “Catwoman.”

A number of other effects shops also are working on “Revolutions,” including Sony Pictures Imageworks, Animal Logic, Buf, Tippett Studio and Pixel Liberation Front.

More than 1,500 effects shots were created for both films.

Warner Bros. fully owns ESC, having funded the creation of the company out of “The Matrix” sequels’ overall production budget (studio has said it spent $100 million on the films’ effects sequences).

Staff will vary

Company’s staff will vary depending on its workload. ESC’s management structure is still being worked out.

Warner Bros. was in the effects business previously, opening Warner Digital Studios in 1996, then closing up shop in 1997, due to runaway overhead costs.

Though Warner Digital Studios was short-lived, the studio feels ESC fit its current needs. With Hollywood devoting a larger percentage of its pic production dollars to special effects, studio execs are looking for ways to manage and understand the process of creating costly visuals.

Keeping ESC open will not only create an internal staff that grasps the demands of the effects biz, but will also give Warners an internal vendor should the rest of the post-production biz be too busy to handle the visual needs of its pics.

With hundreds of often-costly effects sequences now required on everything from actioners to romantic comedies, f/x studios from the largest to the smallest are filled to capacity, with some even turning away work.

Working early on pic

Rather than serving as purely a vendor and bidding on outside work from other studios and even for Warners’ pics, ESC will work closely with studio execs and filmmakers early during a pic’s production to help develop its digital visuals, both creatively and financially.

“Effects costs are escalating,” said Chris DeFaria, Warner Bros. Pictures’ senior veep of physical production and visual effects. “The visual effects budget is now competitive with the live action elements of a budget.

“We’re not looking to bring another competitive vendor into the marketplace. ESC will function differently. It will be less about a vendor-client relationship and more about increased creative involvement during the earlier stages of production. The company will play a more active role in helping determine the creative choices and financial needs of a film’s effects.”

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