By CHRIS McGOWAN
The award-winning definitive authority on all things visual effects in the world of film, TV, gaming, virtual reality, commercials, theme parks, and other new media.
Winner of three prestigious Folio Awards for excellence in publishing.
By CHRIS McGOWAN
“We’re seeing a VFX explosion worldwide, and it’s not limited to one country or even one continent. The growth of streaming and the boom in content production generally mean that there’s more demand than ever for VFX,” says Akhauri P. Sinha, Managing Director of Framestore’s Mumbai studio. Helping to take care of the increased demand – in Asia and globally – is a flourishing VFX industry in South and East Asia, in countries such as India, China, South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Singapore. Some of the companies are locally owned VFX studios. Others are outposts of multinationals like Framestore, ILM, Digital Domain and DNEG.
The region’s visual effects sector has benefited from a growing population of skilled VFX artists, and many studios that initially focused on outsourcing services have now expanded into fullservice visual effects facilities. “The VFX offerings and capabilities of the larger Asian studios have grown by leaps and bounds,” comments Merzin Tavaria, President of Global Production & Operations at DNEG.
BOT VFX has shown the great potential in developing visual effects talent in India, starting when it opened its doors in 2008 as a classic outsourcing facility. “It has always been a U.S.-owned company, but when it began, and until the last two years, the production operation was always India based, initially in Chennai,” says BOT VFX CEO and founder Hitesh Shah. Recently, it built a production operation in Atlanta to go with its production facilities in Pune (opened in 2022), Coimbatore (2019) and Chennai. Thetotal team numbers over 600 today, with 500+ artists.
Shah continues, “What inspired me to get into VFX based on Indian talent years ago was a key trend I observed. The democratization of technology the industry was undergoing could enable democratization of talent. Hardware, software and Internet bandwidth were no longer the massive entry barriers they once were. In the early 2000s, India had a significant pool of artists of various kinds but very little in the way of digital creative talent. We knew we could capitalize on that Indian artist talent if we brought in VFX industry know-how and strong operational discipline and developed the budding ecosystem of talent there. Today, it seems unthinkable to accomplish the volume and complexity of VFX in the industry without the talent base in India. Back in 2003, when I started on this journey, it was just a notion and just a kernel of a new idea.”
While BOT has expanded now into a full-service firm, it is not moving away from RPM services. Shah clarifies, “Instead, we still provide – and intend to provide for the long-term – outsourcing services to other VFX facilities and production houses. In fact, we are actively expanding the capacity we offer to serve the outsourcing needs of VFX facilities, which will remain an integral part of BOT’s success story.”
As the demand for VFX increases, Shah notes, “We have in the last few years built bench-strength in 2D and 3D compositing, FX and CG integrations, as well as matte painting and motion graphics over and above our long-standing strengths in roto, paint tracking and rotomation. We are invested in pipeline tools and infrastructure to meet the needs of both full-service clients as well as outsourcing service clients.”
He explains that, not long ago, “If you looked at the [Indian] sub-continent in terms of the artist skills distribution, the vast majority were engaged in the delivery of RPM services and a relatively small portion was engaged in other areas like compositing, CG and matte painting. In the last several years, that mix has begun to gradually shift towards the non-RPM areas, especially compositing.”
Shah adds, “As the industry’s appetite for VFX shots continues to grow, compositing and CG artists are as much a potential bottleneck for these companies as RPM capacity is. As a result, these multinational companies see great value in widening the skill base and not looking at their India operations as simply a ‘back-office’ to the teams elsewhere.” BOT has worked on VFX for Stranger Things (all seasons), The Orville (all seasons), Foundation, See, Westworld (all seasons), Lovecraft Country and The Umbrella Academy, among many other movies and series.
Of DNEG’s nine studios, four are located in India. The Londonbased multinational has had a remarkable trajectory since CEO Namit Malhotra founded what became Prime Focus in 1995 in a one-room editing studio in Mumbai. Three years later, Double Negative launched in London. “Following the merger of Prime Focus and Double Negative in 2014 [to become DNEG], we expanded and upgraded our studio in Mumbai and revamped our pipeline, integrating the facility with our DNEG studios in the West,” Tavaria says.
He comments, “Our India headquarters in Mumbai has been delivering high-end visual effects for both Hollywood and Bollywood movies for many years. In 2017, we grabbed the opportunity to establish our presence in southern India by setting up a studio in Chennai, and we expanded into India’s technology and IT hub, Bangalore, in 2020. Currently, our studios in Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore work closely with our western studios on all of DNEG’s film and episodic VFX shows, while Chandigarh continues to deliver services that cater to the demand for stereo 3D conversion for theatrical releases.”
Tavaria continues, “Our sites in India work in tandem with our western studios on all the shows that DNEG delivers. Notable recent work includes: The Matrix Resurrections, No Time To Die and of course our most recent Oscar-winner, Dune. While most of our projects are for the Hollywood studios, we have also been involved in some of the most successful Asian shows in recent years. The Battle at Lake Changjin comes to mind as one example of an incredibly successful collaboration with an Asian client, which has gone on to become the highest-grossing Chinese film of all time, and we have some huge films in production for the Indian market right now, including the upcoming fantasy adventure epic Brahmastra.”
Tavaria notes, “The work we have been doing behind the scenes here at DNEG, in developing our technology and pipeline and nurturing talent in different regions across the country, has opened avenues that enable close creative collaboration between our studios in the West and our teams in Asia. From an industry standpoint, the recent growth of the streaming companies has unlocked a new wave of content creation and increasing demand for visual effects and animation of the same level of quality as our Hollywood studio clients.”
Framestore formally opened the doors to its Mumbai office in October 2021, but the team had been in place and working on film and episodic projects since early 2020, according to Fiona Walkinshaw, CEO, Film & Episodic. She explains, “We’d had a successful partnership with Pune-based studio Anibrain for several years and continue to do so, but as we’ve scaled up our business and our ambitions it quickly became apparent that, rather than a partner, we wanted a presence in India that was Framestore through and through – one that knew our pipeline, knew our people and was part of our rich creative culture. We looked at several locations, but Mumbai really stood out. The city has a tremendously rich film heritage, and there’s an incredible melting pot of skills and specialisms that don’t just begin and end with VFX but encompass tech and engineering as well.”
Walkinshaw adds, “We were very clear that we wanted our Mumbai studio to be a fully integrated part of our business. If it was going to be a Framestore studio then the work has to be excellent, and that means a commitment on our part to making sure the team in Mumbai have access to the same training, opportunities and company culture as everywhere else. Paint and roto are part of our offer, but right now we’re building out teams across the studio, trying to find the best texture, lighting, FX, DMP, compositing and modeling talent at all levels.”
Managing Director Sinha comments, “India, in particular Mumbai, is reaching a stage of maturity. We’re seeing senior and mid-level artists really come into their own having worked on a range of very different shows for high-profile clients, and this provides additional support for those earlier in their careers. It means you have more educational and mentoring opportunities, which has a sort of a ripple-out effect for the whole talent base.”
Sinha expects that Framestore’s Mumbai studio will have 300+ employees by the end of the year. “We’re in the process of doubling our studio space and doubling our headcount. As with the initial build, this will be a purpose-built, state-of-the-art space that lends itself to training and creative culture as much as the work itself.” He notes that the team has worked on recent titles such as Thor: Love and Thunder, The Little Mermaid and Peter Pan & Wendy.”
ILM expanded into Singapore in 2006. “It was our first international studio, so it really meant a lot to the company,” comments Luke Hetherington, Executive in Charge, ILM, Singapore and Sydney Studios. “The Singapore location has now developed into a full-service studio, just like our others. In Singapore, we offer the whole pipeline of work for visual effects, animation, and immersive projects. The Singapore team has contributed to a vast array of projects, from Rango and all the Transformers films up to now, to the recent Star Wars and Marvel films, through to regional projects like Monster Hunt 2 and streaming projects such as The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett.”
South Korea’s VFX studios are thriving along with the country’s film and television industry. Founded in 2011, Dexter Studios was the main VFX vendor for Bong Joon-Ho’s Oscar-winning Parasite and for Space Sweepers (original title: Seungriho), Korea’s first high-production sci-fi movie. “The studio developed as an allcontent production company and [offers] services in new media and virtual production,” says Jay Seung Jaegal, Head of VFX Dept. at Dexter Studios. “The firm also produces and provides immersive media and media played in theme parks.” He adds, “In the beginning, Dexter [Studios] participated in a lot of foreign projects from countries such as China and Japan rather than domesticallyproduced films, but now we participate in more domestic projects and [in] a few foreign projects.”
Jaegal adds, “The VFX industry of Korea has grown [a lot] for the past few years. One of the biggest reasons is that as the OTT industry expanded from companies like Netflix, causing the content production demands to increase.” Westworld VFX, founded in Goyang in 2018 by a group of industry veterans, provided visual effects for many Netflix-distributed titles, including sci-fi tale The Silent Sea, undead flick All of Us Are Dead and drama Itaewon Class. Scanline VFX, a Netflix subsidiary since 2021, announced in 2022 that it would make a $100 million investment over six years in a new Seoul VFX studio. Gulliver Studios, based in Goyang, supplied VFX for the Netflix hit series Squid Game (2021).
Headquartered in Busan with branches in Seoul and Beijing, Korea’s 4th Creative Party is another prominent Korean firm. It contributed VFX to Bong Joon-ha’s acclaimed Snowpiercer and Okja films. Digital Idea, based in Goyang, worked on the hit zombie film Train to Busan.
VA Corp was founded in Seoul in 2021 and opened VA Studio Hanam, a virtual production facility located in Hanam. It covers 15,000 square meters of land. “It consists of three soundstages and three virtual stages,” says Minseung Kang, VA Corp’s Corporate Public Relations Manager. The virtual stages feature large walls with ROE LED panels powered by Brompton Technology’s Tessera processing. “Studio C” is Asia’s largest virtual studio, with a floor area of 907 square meters and the biggest oval LED wall in Korea, according to Kang.
Another Asian VFX success story, VHQ Media was founded in 1987 in Singapore as a small boutique post-production studio and has grown steadily to the point where it is one of Asia’s largest post-production houses. It works on everything from movies by China’s Wanda Pictures and Alibaba Pictures, to a multitude of corporate commercials, to releases by Netflix (such as News of the World, Skylines and Locke & Key). It also has facilities in Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei and Jakarta.
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Rotomaker Studios is based in Burbank and has studios in Hyderabad, Pune, Patna, Chennai, Goa and Vijayawada. Rotomaker is a VFX outsourcing facility that has over 2,500 artists employed in facilities across India. Rotomaker founder and CEO Mike Yatham states, “The demand for VFX in OTT films and TV series has increased drastically. Our technicians have been working relentlessly to cater to the needs of local and international clients. We have doubled our talent pool to meet the current demand and keep increasing the manpower through our in-house training institutions.”
Anibrain (in Pune) has partnered with Framestore and many other VFX studios in dozens of major releases over the last 10 years. Base Media (or Base FX) is headquartered in Beijing and has studios in Xiamen, Wuxi and Kuala Lumpur. Bad Clay Studio is based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Supreme Studio in Bangkok claims to have Thailand’s largest XR LED wall. AUX Immersive Studio in Singapore is an XR studio built with technical support from ROE Visual. Other Asian studios include The Monk Studios (Bangkok and Chiangmai), Yannix Co., Ltd. and Yggdrazil Group (both based in Bangkok).
Among other foreign VFX firms with studios in Asia, Digital Domain has facilities in Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Hyderabad. The Third Floor, Inc. opened an office in Beijing in 2020. Stuttgart-based Mackevision has locations in Tokyo, Beijing, Mumbai and Shanghai. L.A.-based Tau Films has studios in Kuala Lumpur, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Beijing. Method Studios has a facility in Pune. Other examples include MPC (Bangalore and Mumbai), Alt.VFX (Tokyo), Nomad Editing Company (Tokyo) and Smoke & Mirrors (Shanghai and Bangkok).
Outpost VFX launched a Mumbai facility in 2022 and scaled up to over 200 employees in six months. According to Syamantak Thakur, General Manager of Outpost VFX ‘s Mumbai studio, the company aims to set up a full-service studio within a year. He comments, “Outpost’s India studio is emerging as one of the key players in the market. The growth and response received by industry folks in Mumbai has been very encouraging. We have been able to attract superb creative talent thanks to Outpost’s progressive culture and the opportunity to work on some of the best shows.”
“There has never been a more opportune time to be part of the VFX industry,” says DNEG’s Tavaria. “With the huge growth in demand for new content creation, the evolution of technology and the increasing crossover between VFX and gaming, not to mention nascent opportunities in the Metaverse, I’m sure that Asia will enjoy continued growth as a hub for content creation for many years to come. The talent pool in Asia is large, passionate and driven, and working with our colleagues in the West, I have no doubt that the Asian VFX industry will continue to play a huge part in transforming the landscape of visual storytelling on the international stage.”