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Technicolor’s Sarnoff on Visual Effects: ‘We’ve Always Been an Industry in Turmoil’

Company to open new post facility in Montreal, add visual effects jobs

With the announcement of Technicolor’s plans to consolidate and expand its Montreal post-production and visual effects operations, Technicolor Digital Productions president Tim Sarnoff spoke to Variety and sounded a mixed note on the state of the visual effects business.

“We’ve always been an industry in turmoil,” Sarnoff said. “In the older days, I don’t think the big facilities were suffering from the turmoil as much as small facilities, or certainly the mid-sized facilities. What’s changed is the larger facilities are suffering more than the small facilities are, and it’s precisely because you have to be a little more flexible and light on your feet to be able to survive in today’s industry.

“In the past you needed to be big enough to handle all the requests. Now you need to big enough to handle all the requests, and you have to be light on your feet.”

Sarnoff said Monday’s announcement that Technicolor is adding capacity for up to 250 vfx artists at a new 25,000-square-foot facility in old town Montreal reflects that new reality. “We have a choice of getting larger in one place or moving to another. If you get too large in one spot it makes you too heavy, and if you choose not to expand you get too light in terms of your abilities.”

Currently, Technicolor employees fewer than 80 artists in Montreal, scattered among its post facilities. Sarnoff said some staff will move from other locations, but he expects a net expansion in the workforce of Technicolor’s visual effects business, Moving Picture Co., depending on what projects it secures in the next year.

The company said the Montreal vfx artists are already working on “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Into the Woods” and “Cinderella.”

The other post departments that will consolidate in the new facility are picture post (digital intermediate & broadcast), sound and language versioning.

Moving Picture Co. has grown enough in recent years to be considered one of the the “big six” visual effects companies. (The others are Industrial Light & Magic, Sony Imageworks, Weta Digital, Double Negative and Framestore.) That number is down from the former “big eight,” since Digital Domain and Rhythm & Hues have gone through bankruptcy and are still rebuilding their capacity, staff and reputation.

“Though the studios see some of the major facilities shrinking or going under altogether,” Sarnoff said, “I think that the capacity in general in the industry is still  enough to handle the projects that are needed.

“I think some of the facilities have been slow to adapt to the global nature of the business. We have the same global vision of the business as our studio clients, so we provide precisely the services they request. That’s the basic infrastructure discussion we’d have at Technicolor: Where are they needing to do the work, and who can we get to do the work in the places where they need to have it done?”

MPC’s answer has been to add to its locations in Los Angeles and New York facilities in territories that offer the subsidies studios crave: Vancouver, London, India and now Montreal. “It’s not predicated on anything other than trying to service studio clients,” he said.

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