Two new facils up the ante for local filmmakers

Windmill LaneVFX, Ballyhenry Film Studios strengthens industry

Ireland’s infrastructure has been strengthened by the construction of two ambitious new production facilities, Windmill LaneVFX and Ballyhenry Film Studios.

Windmill LaneVFX is the country’s first dedicated film visual effects house, while Ballyhenry is poised to offer a significant alternative to Ardmore, Ireland’s only existing film studio.

Both are primarily targeted at attracting big-budget international projects to take advantage of Ireland’s Section 481 tax break.

Windmill LaneVFX, an offshoot of Dublin’s leading post-production house, is already hard at work on sci-fi thriller “Lockout,” the €32 million ($47.36 million) debut feature by Irish commercials duo Saint & Mather. Pic is financed by EuropaCorp, with Windmill Lane as the Irish co-producer to provide the S481 rebate.

According to Windmill Lane chairman James Morris, the company’s existing relationship with Saint & Mather provided the opportunity to take the plunge into creating a standalone VFX facility, at a cost of $1.2 million.

“We built a VFX team and a pipeline to do this film,” Morris says. “Moving into VFX is a natural growth area as the Irish industry develops.”

Based in a south Dublin suburb, Windmill LaneVFX has more than 40 artists on Maya and Nuke workstations, with Shotgun project management and inhouse technical and R&D back-up.

Ballyhenry Film Studios in Wicklow, south of Dublin, is finally set to open for business in the second half of 2011 after several years of development and planning delays.

Set amid a 320-acre rural estate, it has three soundstages totalling 60,000 square feet, of which the largest is 30,000 square feet. By contrast, nearby Ardmore has five stages totalling 40,000 square feet.

Ballyhenry’s owner Joe O’Connell says he’s not trying to compete with Ardmore, but to expand Ireland’s overall capacity. “The idea is to bring critical mass,” he says.

O’Connell, a multi-millionaire appliance manufacturer, dreamed up the idea of converting his Ballyhenry estate into a film studio after meeting Morgan O’Sullivan of World 2000, Ireland’s most active co-producer of big international film and TV projects, including “The Tudors” and “Camelot,” both of which shot at Ardmore.

O’Sullivan has helped O’Connell with the development of Ballyhenry, and is likely to be first in the queue to bring projects into the studio once construction is finished, although nothing is yet booked.

“I’m hoping the studio will be sustainable and will expand, but it’s very early, and I have no idea how things will evolve,” O’Connell says. “All I can do is just to give people what they say they want.”

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