Sunday, September 21, 2008

Another Visual Effects House Shimmies Up the Greased Pole

The Sunday Times has a piece on a British effects house morphing into a cartoon studio:

MOVIE special-effects house Framestore is hunting for financial backers to turn it into a British version of Pixar, the Disney-owned animations studio behind Wall-E and Toy Story.

“We are looking at moving up the food chain,” said Sir William Sargent, who founded the business with colleagues in 1986. “There is an awful lot of exciting stuff going on in 3D films.”

Framestore won an Oscar for its work on the computer-generated armoured bear in The Golden Compass and also created Aslan the lion for this year’s Prince Caspian film.

Its first feature-length animation, The Tale of Despereaux, starring a mouse voiced by actor Matthew Broderick, will be released by Universal at Christmas.

In four years, the company, which has the largest computer-generated-effects studio in Europe, has grown from 300 staff to 750, split between London and New York ...

Here's the sad reality about viz effx houses. The profit margins suck.

And they've been sucky for years. A decade ago, a cg supe at Disney and I had a long conversation about how every major studio had gotten into ... and then out of ... the visual effects business, since it was a splendid way to make no or little money.

"Every effects house bids against every other effects house for the live-action jobs, and the one that low balls the bid gets the work, and then makes nothing doing the work.

The guys working out of their garage, with no overhead, win."

Okay, he was using a tiny dollop of hyperbole, but not much. But you'll notice that Warners is no longer in the effects business, nor is The Secret Lab, and Sony has Imageworks up on the auction block every now and again.

Because of the narrow margins, many visual effects studios sooner or later glom onto the bright idea of becoming full-bore c.g.i. animation studios. ("Make your own animated feature! Make a mint!") More often than not, it's red ink that comes sloshing in, and not Big Bucks. Just ask Vanguard. Just ask IDT Entertainment.

But good luck to Framestore. Maybe they'll succeed where others have failed.


Justin said...

Phil Tippet has stated that he doesn't run Tippet Studios to make money, but because he loves making movies.

Rhythm & Hues shares a portion of their profits with their employees every year that they turn a profit. I believe it has been a couple of years since there has been any profit sharing.

Steve Hulett said...

Ah yes. "It isn't about the money ..."

And like I say, it's hard for Effex houses to make big profits.

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