Imageworks looks to rule f/x field

Bredow upped to CTO as retooling continues

Sony Pictures Imageworks continues to retool its management team. In the latest move, visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow is set to be bumped up to chief technical officer July 1, replacing George Joblove.

Amid one of the grimmest periods in memory for the post-production and visual effects business in Hollywood, rumors have been swirling that Sony might shrink or shut down Imageworks.

But Imageworks execs say flatly that they’re being asked to make sure the company remains a leader in vfx and animation, even in a market that’s more competitive than ever.

“We’ve always been known as one of the very few studios who can do the impossible in vfx,” Bredow said. “We’re not changing our agenda there.”

However, he’s also looking to help contain costs for the company by “making the easy stuff easy” — to make sure artists resist the temptation to add complexity in pursuit of perfection. “That means more on the screen for less money,” he said.

Exec VP for production Debby Denise said that while Imageworks now has to compete against small shops all over the world, many with much lower labor costs, “The studios and filmmakers have to weigh the cost advantages against the risk of the small shops not being able to deliver large numbers of shots in time for the release date.” Imageworks’ advantage, she said, is “They can depend on us.”

The irony is that just a few years ago, some of Imageworks’ competitors would complain that Sony was trying to corner the market on visual effects by overpaying artists and bidding for work at a loss.

In those days, Imageworks wasn’t required to turn a profit. Sony’s plan was for Imageworks to do animation production for Sony Pictures Animation as well as vfx. The two would be tied together under the umbrella of Sony Pictures Digital, which would be the profit center, due to expected big grosses from its CG animated releases.

But Sony’s animated features haven’t delivered those big returns yet. As a result, Imageworks is under performance pressure. It’s given up leases in Culver City and has flattened its management structure.

It’s also shifting from employing artists full-time to a production crew model, in which most are hired on a project-by-project basis, and only key people are kept on permanently.

“It’s part of the maturation of the vfx business. It’s become more like physical production,” said Imageworks exec VP-general manager Randy Lake.

Lake said Imageworks is also striving to make itself more of an asset to Columbia, consulting with the development team to avoid unexpected costs. “We’ve actually become more important to the studio under the new model than perhaps in the past.”

Imageworks is also strategizing with other studios earlier in production, Lake said. “To the extent we can help them design projects that work for their budgets and work creatively, it makes it easier for us to be successful in working with them.”

Lake said Imageworks will continue to support Sony franchises like “Spider-Man” with visual effects and do the animation production for SPA.

Bredow said the mix producing animation and vfx helps Imageworks give clients better bang for their buck. “We’ve seen a huge win from being able to leverage our technology in (both vfx and animation). The level of complexity we can put on the screen for a dollar in an SPA movie is greater than if we were just doing animation,” he added.

And while speed and cost containment are priorities, “Our mission is not to be a huge moneymaker; our mission is to make it possible to make the best pictures possible,” Bredow said.