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Visual effects shops draw big-budget pix

Scout & About 2012: Berlin/Brandenburg

The emphasis of the Berlin production subsidies is, by definition, production — but now, the growth of Berlin-based vfx houses means that big-budget shoots can take advantage of local post-production talent.

Players such as Pixomondo, Trixter, Rise, Celluloid and Exozet — all have either headquarters or facilities in Berlin — have been contributing to national product while becoming increasingly present on the international stage.

Between them they’ve done work on such films as “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” “Captain America: First Avenger,” “X-Men: First Class,” “Hugo,” “Underworld Awakening,” “The Avengers,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” and the HBO series “Game of Thrones” as well as the upcoming “Cloud Atlas” and “Iron Man 3.”

“It was quite difficult to get these German companies into the U.S. productions in the beginning,” says Babelsberg’s Charlie Woebcken, whose studio facility hosts many a big-budget foreign production, because the local vfx business didn’t have the international resume required to nab work. “We had a breakthrough on (the Wachowski produced 2009) ‘Ninja Assassin.’ ”

This film gave Pixomondo, which was also working on “2012” for Roland Emmerich, the juice to open a facility in Berlin in order to do the on-set effects work. The film used local house Trixter, which had a presence in Berlin as a producer of animated films, and newly launched Rise/fx, through vfx supervisor Chris Townsend (“Wolverine,” “Captain America”). Townsend, in turn, used them again on “Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief.”

“The vfx community is so small, if you do great work and offer competitive prices, the word spreads pretty fast,” says Florian Gellinger, vfx superviser and partner at Rise.

Now Rise is the biggest vfx house in Berlin, while Trixter and Pixomondo have established facilities in L.A. and Toronto — Pixomondo also operates in 13 locations around the world, including London. Exozet, which has been working steadily on German TV and film since 1999, has been on Universal and Lionsgate pics and is developing game-based interactive software for on-set realtime compositing and mapping. Celluloid launched in Berlin with a number of L.A.-based clients, including the “Underworld” franchise, and is doing vfx for the latest film by rising German star Matthias Schweighoefer, “Schlussmacher” produced by Fox Intl.

Pixomondo’s role in the visual effects Oscar win for Martin Scorcese’s “Hugo” was a significant step in raising Germany’s vfx profile.

Medienboard’s Kirsten Niehuus says that “if shooting and visual effects are done in Berlin/Brandenburg, then of course we can fund more in the stage of production, but not after that.”

Clearly there’s competition from the big effects houses in Canada and the U.K., which benefit from incentives that are not bound to co-production. But low overhead in Berlin, and the state of the euro make the work here competitive on price.

The first international project to truly take advantage of vfx in Berlin is the upcoming “Cloud Atlas” by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer. The high-profile, heavily effects-driven film relies primarily on work done by Rise, Trixter, Exozet and the Munich-based Scanline. “Everyone got a part,” says Stefan Spendier, head of business affairs at Trixter. “I don’t think any vfx company in Germany was big enough to handle a project like that alone.”

“Actually there is the intention of all the effects companies to have things similar to the London model with the companies working together in order to get the huge shows here,” says Leutner. “At the moment because we’re lobbying for a funding scheme specialized for post production and vfx. If one could get that established, then it might be possible to become a European effects center.”

Scout & About 2012: Berlin/Brandenburg
Cash & cachet in Berlin | Visual effects shops draw big-budget pix | Regional studios & vfx facilities | Berlin adds post-prod facilities | Locals to know and in the know for area lensing

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