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Under the guidance of Global Managing Director/Visual Effects Supervisor/Producer Dennis Berardi, Mr. X has blossomed into a formidable VFX force, enjoying quite a string of successes and making a reputation in both film and television. Their list of credits is impressive, starting with their earliest work with Zack Snyder on Dawn of the Dead.
Says Berardi, “It was our first big studio project, and one of the first where I was a VFX supervisor. We delivered over 300 visual effects shots. It was completely filmed in Toronto, and all the VFX work was done at Mr. X. That project put our company on the map as one that can deliver for the studios.”
As with so many success stories, Mr. X Inc. was founded on a dream that has materialized into something much more than even its founder expected. Established in 2001, the studio began with just eight people. “We started Mr. X with the idea of a place where we could do our best work. We wanted to invent the pipeline, invent the studio, and work with artists and technicians that inspired us, where we all had the common goal that our best work was ahead of us and we could do it together. That was the genesis of Mr. X.”
Berardi’s visual effects career began in the early ’90s with the National Film Board of Canada and IMAX. There he integrated revolutionary digital-imaging systems for live-action and animated films. Later, he established Command Post Toybox’s visual effects department, where he continued building his impressive résumé as VFX Lead on films such as Tarsem Singh’s The Cell and David Fincher’s Fight Club.
Berardi has surrounded himself with a team of highly experienced professionals. Aaron Weintraub helped found the company along with Berardi. Mr. X’s Senior Visual Effects Supervisor, Weintraub has compiled no less than an 80-film repertoire including Dawn of the Dead, Eastern Promises, Pacific Rim, TRON: LEGACY and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. More recently, Weintraub has added films such as Sully, The Finest Hours and Ben-Hur, under his belt. He is the company’s go-to expert in VR and 360-degree video, and recently directed the spectacular Ben-Hur 360° Experience and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter 360° Experience. Before Mr. X, Weintraub built his career on an already impressive string of successes through his contribution to TOPIX’s Mad Dog Digital. Weintraub has been awarded the Kodak Canada Award for Academic and Creative Excellence, and been nominated by the Canadian Screen Awards for his work on Mama.
Accompanying Weintraub on Sully, Ben-Hur, The Finest Hours, Scott Pilgrim, and TRON: LEGACY is Supervising Visual Effects Producer and Head of Production, Sarah McMurdo. Her impressive work can also be seen in Hanna and Mama. Most recently she produced VFX for three seasons of the Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, each recognized with VES nominations for Best Supporting Visual Effects. McMurdo designed the project management workflow for Mr. X and supervises a team of 40 production staff.
Visual Effects Supervisor Chris MacLean worked on Crimson Peak, Ben-Hur and Pompeii, and has helped Mr. X streamline its asset-creation process through his development of Xscan, a photogrammetry-based scanning stage.
“We started Mr. X with the idea of a place where we could do our best work. We wanted to invent the pipeline, invent the studio, and work with artists and technicians who inspired us, where we all had the common goal that our best work was ahead of us and we could do it together. That was the genesis of Mr. X.”
—Dennis Berardi, Global Managing Director/Visual Effects Supervisor /Producer, Mr. X
Visual Effects Supervisor Trey Harrell joined Mr. X in 2010 after 15 years as an art director and creative director for broadcast, web and print ads. After his stint on TRON: Legacy as Lead Lighting TD, he’s now working on Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water.
Since its inception, Mr. X has grown to over 300 employees. Working from locations in Toronto, New York City, Montreal and Los Angeles, the company now has well over 100 films on its credit list. The team at Mr. X wanted to build a company based on a philosophy that the quality of their contribution and unique visual brand will improve the productions they work on.
“We strive to recruit, hire and partner with those who understand the idea of visual storytelling, where we take an abstract idea, scripted page, or a brief from a director and we have to translate that idea into visuals that make sense and tell stories. That is our passion,” Berardi says. While many other companies are bogged down by the needs of the industry, Berardi has a starkly lighthearted approach. “I always laugh when some people complain about the films or TV productions they’re on. I don’t know what they’re complaining about; they should just work to make it better.”
Stability is another goal of Berardi’s, growing the company organically, taking on the projects they feel they’re suited for, will enjoy, and therefore excel at. Many companies hire freelancers on an “as needed” basis, when they are hired to meet crushing deadlines through three- or six-week contracts.
“We don’t do that,” he says. “We bring people in for six months or a year or a permanent job. Those are the three options. We are generally offered more work than we can do, so that allows for some choice. We make long-term commitments to our staff and offer stability and a lifestyle that I think is unique [in this industry]. I’m proud that an artist, technician, coordinator, or supervisor can come in and find a home within our company.”
“We continue to hone our craft in visual storytelling, to push our understanding of the technology, and to embrace new movements beyond animation and visual effects.”
The quality of work has continued for Mr. X with television shows such as Godless, Penny Dreadful, Bates Motel and the critically acclaimed Vikings, now in its fifth season. Their feature credits include TRON: LEGACY, Sully, Ben-Hur, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak.
The company works frequently with del Toro, a director known for his success with various forms of media. “We’ve collaborated with him on multiple projects including Mama, on which he was one of the creative producers. We worked on Pacific Rim with him as well, where we contributed design and pre-visualized the opening sequence, something that I’m really proud of. One of our true success stories with Guillermo, however, is Crimson Peak. All the design work was done here in Toronto, filmed completely in Toronto, post production in Toronto, including visual effects. It’s a design-based film that brings to life the aesthetic that we all envisioned. I think it’s some of our best work.”
“One of our true success stories with Guillermo del Toro is Crimson Peak. All the design work was done here in Toronto, filmed completely in Toronto, post production in Toronto, as well as visual effects. It’s a design-based film that brings to life the aesthetic that we all envisioned.
I think it’s some of our best work.”
Mr. X continues to work on The Strain. A collaboration between del Toro and creator, Carlton Cuse, the series is entering its final season later on this summer. “Now we are working with him on The Shape of Water” – an otherworldly story befitting a Guillermo and Mr. X partnership. The upcoming year looks bright for the company with yet another highly anticipated 2017 release – Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game, with Jessica Chastain.
“Mr. X Inc. is a company that is always looking towards the future. We continue to hone our craft in visual storytelling, to push our understanding of the technology, and to embrace new movements beyond animation and visual effects, especially VR and AR.”
The Mr. X team is often recognized for their work through various awards, including the Emmys, the VES and CSA. “I’m proud to say we’ve been recognized for our passion in this industry. We compete at a very high level of visual effects and come up against the likes of Game of Thrones frequently.”
One of their artists’ favorites is Penny Dreadful. “Everyone here is a huge fan of the show,” he says, “so we would film the episode, we’d deliver the VFX, and then we’d watch it. We watch our own work, we are that company. We are a company that is excited about the work we do. We deliver, we watch it, and embrace it.”
Says Berardi, “We’re passionate about the industry we work in and the sense of camaraderie that we’ve achieved over the years – from attending events together, debating on how best to do this and that – we’ve developed our own unique visual effects society here at Mr. X.”