Buf at 30: VFX Studio Reshapes and ‘Smart-Sizes’ For the Future

Company preps commercial release of its f/x software

“When filmmakers want a shot that’s never been seen before and don’t know how to do it, they come to us,” says Pierre Buffin, CEO of Paris-based Buf Compagnie, neatly encapsulating the service behind the growth of his company, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

Buffin still owns the company he founded, one of the longest-running vfx studios in the business.

The company boasts an impressive list of repeat clients — including the Wachowski siblings, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher and Wong Kar Wai. It pioneered such proprietary vfx techniques as camera mapping on “Fight Club,” Bullet Time in Michel Gondry’s musicvideo “Like a Rolling Stone” and on “The Matrix,” Batman’s sonar vision in “The Dark Knight,” and the tiger’s deep-sea 90-second dream sequence for 2012 Academy Award winner “Life of Pi.”

“Pierre Buffin took my hand when I first stepped into the film and illusion world,” helmer Gondry says. “Together we constantly explored and developed new ideas.”

Buf won the vfx prize at the 50th Taiwan Golden Horses Awards for “The Grandmaster” by Wong. “Pierre is a grandmaster of the visual arts,” says the Chinese director. “I thank him for his artistry and friendship.”

“Pierre Buffin is the Jean-Pierre Jeunet of vfx,” says Franck Priot, COO of Film France. “He’s an excellent example of France’s open attitude to cinema — he’s able to work with Hollywood studios, and Asian and French auteurs.”

But given the current wafer-thin profit margins for vfx on studio pics, Buf is reshaping itself for the future. It has decided to “smart-size,” focusing on auteur-driven projects, and procure new revenue streams.

While the company has maintained its veteran core staff, freelancers have been slashed by 70% — from a total workforce of 600 in 2010, when Buf was simultaneously servicing studio pics and ambitious French projects such as Luc Besson’s “Arthur and Invisibles” animation trilogy — to a current level of 150 in Paris, plus a 100-person capacity in the company’s units in Montreal and Brussels, which opened in 2012.

“The vfx business has changed dramatically over recent years and as professionals, we don’t know how to protect ourselves,” Buffin bemoans. “You can easily become a slave to your overheads. It takes time to build for a big studio pic and if production is rescheduled, the knock-on effect is huge. You have to learn to stay small and humble.”

India Osborne, Buf’s managing director, says “Competition is forcing vfx shops to cannibalize each other. This business is all about ebb and flow — you have to know who you are, and what you bring to the table, to survive. We’re interested in storytelling and projects that leverage our inhouse talent.”

In 2007, Buf launched inhouse production unit Angele & Fine, which recently acquired rights to Georges Bataille’s 1928 erotic tale “The Story of the Eye.”

“I loved the book as a child, because it explores the domain of dreams,” Buffin says. “It’s an opportunity to produce images that will take viewers by surprise and generate emotional shock.”

Buffin spent his childhood immersed in comicbooks and graphic novels. He founded Buffin Seydoux Computer Animation (BSCA) in 1984, in partnership with Henri Seydoux, son of Pathe owner Jerome. Five years later — when the two parted ways — the company was renamed Buf. Since then it has become known for its proprietary vfx software, which it built from scratch.

“I’m an explorer of images,” says Buffin. “I built the boats that enabled us to sail into uncharted waters.”

Popular on Variety

More Digital

  • Kim Kardashian Kim Kardashian out and

    Nielsen Now Tracks Celebs' Social-Media Touts of TV Shows

    Nielsen is providing a new lens into how celebrities and talent can boost the exposure of TV shows on social media. The measurement company announced that its Social Content Ratings solution now measures talent promotion of television programs across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. According to Nielsen, talent now drives nearly 60% of all social engagement [...]

  • Homecoming

    Peak Storytelling Here as Podcasts, Short Form Ride New Wave

    The concept of peak TV is nothing new. But scratch the surface of original content these days, and it’s no longer about television — from podcasts and short-form video, storytelling itself is at a peak. Thanks to audio, video and other new platform companies including Gimlet, Quibi, Wondery, iHeartMedia and Serial Box, listeners and viewers [...]

  • Roku Express 2019

    Roku Launches New Streaming Devices, Doubles Down on Content Curation

    As every year, Roku is going into the holiday shopping season with a handful of new devices: The company unveiled a revamped $30 entry-level Roku Express streaming device as well as new version of its $100 Roku Ultra streamer Thursday. Additionally, Roku also announced a new version of its software platform that puts a bigger [...]

  • Paradiso

    New Podcast Studio Paradiso Launches With Series for Spotify, Sybel (EXCLUSIVE)

    Former executives from Canal Plus, entertainment company Konbini and advertising film Havas have joined forces to launch Paradiso, an international podcast production studio dedicated to delivering premium scripted, documentary and kids’ content for global platforms. The company has already scored commissions from Spotify and Sybel. Paradiso’s founding partners are Lorenzo Benedetti, the founder of Studio [...]

  • Brad Pitt stars in “Ad Astra”.

    ‘Ad Astra’ Once Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Twentieth Century Fox claims the top spot in spending for the third week in a row with “Ad Astra.” Ads placed for the sci-fi film had an estimated media value of $6.47 million through [...]

  • Andrew MorseVariety's Entertainment & Techonology Summit,

    Listen: CNN Digital Chief Says Trump Doesn't Drive Traffic Success

    No subject might get as much attention across CNN’s digital properties as Donald Trump, but that doesn’t mean the news network is dependent on him for web traffic. Andrew Morse, executive VP and general manager of the AT&T-owned company’s digital operations, pointed to recent coverage of natural disasters and international incidents as more potent audience [...]

  • Jonah Hill attends the press conference

    Instagram Debuts Jonah Hill’s ‘Un-filtered’ Bullying Docu-Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Facebook’s Instagram, as part of its anti-bullying initiatives, funded a new series directed by Jonah Hill featuring teens and young adults talking about their experiences with bullying. The four-episode “Un-filtered” goes live Wednesday (Sept. 18) on Instagram’s IGTV channel on its mobile app and the web. In the unscripted series, Hill interviews people aged 13-25 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content