London’s CG houses share digital wealth

Vfx companies bolster Brit pics with coin and skills

London’s visual effects sector is moving into production as it seeks to balance work on Hollywood movies with the growing demand from local indies for effects on a shoestring.

The big shops such as Framestore, Cinesite, MPC and Double Negative have boomed on the back of Harry Potter, Batman and their ilk. But the key Brit vfx players also recognize the need to cultivate more flexible relationships with British producers, to fill the gaps between the blockbusters and give them more ownership of the images they create.

Framestore has taken the boldest step by co-financing a select few low-budget Brit pics from CinemaNX and Generator Entertainment as well as producing its first animated movie (see sidebar, page A12).

“We’re gingerly putting our toes in the water and exploring the world of independent cinema to see if there’s a role for us there,” says Framestore’s Steve Norris. “The box of tricks that had been in possession of the few is becoming more available to everybody. A lot of stuff is going to be more usable for lower-budget filmmakers — the question is whether they can step up to the creative challenge.”

Cinesite, whose recent work includes “Bedtime Stories,” “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” and “Prince of Persia” for Disney, has also started developing its own inhouse projects, including a pilot for a stop-motion kids TV series.

“We are historically known as a visual effects services house, but for the future we want to get into content. That can help out during the tough periods,” says managing director Antony Hunt.

Hunt says he turns down a lot of producers looking for free vfx in return for a stake in their films. But he is open to exploring cut-price deals on interesting indie projects, such as sci-fi drama “Moon,” the feature directing debut of David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones.

“We’re not doing it for the money, but because the script was good,” Hunt says. “‘Moon’ is a great example of us helping a U.K. producer to use vfx for the right reasons, to open up their film. We made sure we covered our costs, and it’s a fantastic way to give junior staff a chance to be mentored on work. Independent producers sometimes think they will never be able to use our resource, but if the right project comes along at the right time, it can fill a gap, or look good on our showreel, or prompt an R&D project. So they should always pick up the phone and inquire — where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Double Negative delivered spectacular vfx on a tight budget for Recorded Picture Co.’s $12 million “Franklyn,” and MPC is providing the digital trickery for Ealing’s “A Picture of Dorian Gray.” “The film has a very limited vfx budget and wouldn’t normally be able to walk in the door of somewhere like MPC, but they weren’t busy after ‘Narnia’ so they were willing to cut a deal,” says one London vfx insider.

The smaller London shops, which don’t get the big studio contracts, rely on such indie work for their bread and butter.

Post houses LipSync, Molinare and VTR, which offer vfx work alongside their other digital services, have started putting up production coin as a way of securing business. LipSync set up its own production arm about 18 months ago and has since backed a dozen indie films, including “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” and “Dean Spanley.”

“At the time, the post industry was quite sluggish, so we decided to take a considered position in some films to see how it worked out,” says LipSync’s managing director Alasdair MacCuish. “We only put the last 5%-10% of the budget, and we never put in more than a third of the amount the film will spend on post with us, so we’re only gambling our margins.”

Simon Frame, head of production at vfx boutique Men From Mars, regards investing in production as “absolute lunacy.” He argues that flexibility is the key to providing high-end effects on a tight budget, as Men From Mars did for “Mutant Chronicles.” “It’s a $70 million movie made for

$22 million,” he says. “They would have preferred to spend

$25 million at Cinesite or Framestore like ‘Harry Potter’ does, but they couldn’t afford it. We said we could do it if they gave us a lot of time, so we did 1,500 shots in a year and a half.”

Men From Mars was sold earlier this year to Indian group Pixion. Frame believes that the future lies in spreading such indie work between London, with its high-end skills, and Mumbai, with its high-volume capacity.

More Film

  • Beyonce poses for photographers upon arrival

    Beyoncé Releases Music Video for 'Spirit,' Her 'Lion King' Soundtrack Contribution

    Beyoncé fans are stampeding across the web veldt to get a look at her just-released music video for “Spirit,” the original song she co-wrote and sang for the “Lion King” soundtrack. The track is also included on the companion album she executive-produced and will release Friday, “The Gift.” Clips from the computer-animated film are interspersed [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez Takes Down Wall Street Crooks in New Trailer for 'Hustlers'

    According to Jennifer Lopez, basic pole dancing movements all revolve around a few foot positions. But as she tells her stripper student Constance Wu, it’s not just about the dancing. In the new trailer for “Hustlers,” Lopez and Wu swindle a number of high profile Wall Street clients in an effort to bring their white [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Writers Guild Leaders Warn Members About Contact With Fired Agents

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America are warning members about being contacted by their former agents — asserting that such efforts are an attempt to undermine the WGA and its members. The missive, sent Tuesday from the WGA negotiating committee, came with the guild in a bitter three-month standoff with talent agents that appears [...]

  • Apollo 11

    Film News Roundup: 'Apollo 11' Re-Release Set for Moon Landing Anniversary

    In today’s film news roundup, Neon is re-releasing “Apollo 11”; “Sesame Street” gets moved; “Supersize Me 2” is set for Sept. 13; Will Ropp gets a “Silk Road” deal; and Apple makes a movie deal. RE-LAUNCH Neon will re-release Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary “Apollo 11” in theaters on July 20, the 50th anniversary of the [...]

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Michael B. Jordan's 'Just Mercy' Moves to Awards Season Slot

    Michael B. Jordan’s upcoming legal drama “Just Mercy” has been shifted forward three weeks from Jan. 17 to Dec. 25 for an Oscar-qualifying theatrical release. “Just Mercy” is based on the case of Walter McMillan, an African-American death-row prisoner who was exonerated in 1993 after being convicted five years earlier for a 1986 murder in [...]

  • Harry Styles to Play Prince Eric

    Harry Styles in Talks to Play Prince Eric in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'

    Harry Styles is going under the sea. The former One Direction frontman is in early negotiations to play Prince Eric in Disney’s live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey will portray the Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of being a human, while Melissa McCarthy is playing her evil aunt Ursula. “The Little Mermaid” [...]

  • Stuber Movie

    Disney Left With a Slate of Film Flops After Fox Deal

    Is Disney having buyer’s remorse? The studio would be forgiven if it were having some regrets after absorbing 20th Century Fox, the company that once generated big box office with the likes of “Avatar,” “Life of Pi,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” After “Dark Phoenix” bombed earlier this summer, Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista’s action comedy “Stuber” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content