For pros behind ‘Matrix,’ ‘LOTR,’ what’s next?

'Catwoman,' 'Ladykillers' next up for f/x companies

It may be the end of the road for “The Matrix” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogies, but ESC Entertainment and Weta, the respective effects facilities behind the films, aren’t expected to close their doors any time soon.

Originally founded by Warner Bros. and the Wachowski brothers in 2001 to tackle the computer-generated visuals for the two “Matrix” sequels, ESC has been attracting plenty of projects now that Neo’s battles have been won.

Since delivering the final shots for “The Matix: Revolutions” in September, the company, situated on a former Navy base outside San Francisco, has been busy working on Warner Bros.’ superhero actioner “Catwoman,” and supernatural thriller “Constantine,” teaming it once again with Keanu Reeves.

Should “Superman” take off in 2004, ESC is said to be a favorite to land the lead f/x job.

As a work-for-hire facility, ESC is hoping to lure non-WB-based projects, as well, to keep its staff of nearly 175 busy (at the height of post-production on “The Matrix” sequels, the company employed more than 300 artists and engineers). The firm’s work will be seen in “The Ladykillers,” a Disney comedy starring Tom Hanks and directed by the Coen brothers.

Founded by “Rings” helmer Peter Jackson to create the f/x sequences for 1996 supernatural laffer “The Frighteners,” the New Zealand-based Weta facilities — Weta Digital is devoted to CG imagery, while Weta Workshop builds miniatures, weaponry and handles other physical effects — are readying for Jackson’s next epic, “King Kong.”

Like ESC, Weta is looking to expand beyond its founder’s films. Now that its work has won two f/x Oscars and is favored to win a third, Weta’s finding it easier to get projects.

The additional work flowing into the company should help Weta keep intact its ranks, since staffers have become key poaching targets for other f/x shops.

For this year’s Oscars, Weta’s credit appears on the f/x-category-nominated “Master and Commander” and “Peter Pan ” — ILM was the lead shop for both , but Weta built an armory of weapons and miniatures. Weta also landed “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which is nearing the production stages.

Additionally, Weta launched a TV production unit, looking to fully produce a slate of series inhouse.

And, of course, it’s planning to capitalize on what it learned while making “Rings,” having spun off a unit to make light and actor-friendly chain mail for medieval or fantasy movies projects.

“There are ebbs and flows, feasts and famines, in our industry,” says Richard Taylor, who heads up Weta Workshop. “We have to diversify so our crew can keep on working.”

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