For some time, the French VFX sector suffered an acute case of brain drain, as young professionals would graduate from internationally admired institutions and nearly immediately take their talents abroad.
“Years ago, when I spoke with students from [the renowned school] ArtFX, something like 95% of them planned to leave after graduation,” says VFX supervisor Emmanuel Pichereau. “Only when I consulted with this year’s graduating class, I saw many of them change their mind about staying in France.”
What changed, of course, has much to do with France’s newly revamped tax plan, which now offers a 40% rebate to productions that spend at least $2.27 million with local VFX studios.
In the two years since the plan went through, projects including “The Last Duel,” “John Wick: Chapter 4” and six other large international productions were persuaded to bring substantial visual-effects slates to Gaul. French animators are also in demand.
And as new work bids continue to fly in (though unable to share names, sources from France’s national film body CNC indicate that the number of foreign projects could easily double by the end of 2022) so too might the scores of French professionals currently living abroad.
First among them is Emmanuel Pichereau. After leaving for England in 2011, the VFX artist was able to assist films directed by Ridley Scott, the Wachowskis, Tim Burton and Jonathan Glazer, giving the French native a taste for splashy productions and the highly structured workflows that allow such projects to see the light of day. And Pichereau did not want to give that up when he returned to his home country.
In 2021, Pichereau helped launch On of Us Paris, a French offshoot of the London-based studio where he had worked the previous decade. Now serving as creative director for the Paris office, the industry pro wants to reel in the same big fish so many highly trained upstarts go looking for in international waters.
“New graduates are above all driven by the projects they can join,” Pichereau esays. “When you spend five years studying to become a VFX artist, you prioritize the work itself. You look for an environment with the proper infrastructure, workflow and teammates to help you make a mark. We want to offer that in Paris.”
In order to do so, studios such as One of Us, which boasts 70 employees in Paris and is looking to open a branch in another part of the country, and the independent production company Whisky & Chocolate — which hews to a more artisanal line with three full- time staff — have both organized their internal structures to meet a more standardized industry model. Now’s the time to put French talent into the international paradigm.
“The tax credit has already changed the French VFX industry,” says One of Us co-founder and company director Rachael Penfold, who works out of Paris. “And the return of talent is only going to change it more, because once you have enough experienced talent in your studio, you can cut through any problem very quickly and efficiently.
“Scope and scale is the next challenge for France,” she says. “We’ve established a more international way of working, so now we need to scale that all the way up, so that studios feel comfortable bringing us bigger and bigger projects.”