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June 06
2024

ISSUE

Summer 2024

SPECIAL FOCUS: VFX IN EUROPE

By OLIVER WEBB

RISE worked on The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes. (Image courtesy of RISE and Lionsgate)

RISE worked on The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes. (Image courtesy of RISE and Lionsgate)

The European visual effects industry has evolved as a global VFX leader after a notable resurgence in the last decade. European studios have also been dominating awards ceremonies across the globe, and Hollywood now relies on the impeccable work of European studios. Studios such as UPP, RISE, The Yard, Important Looking Pirates and DNEG ReDefine are in strong demand. Cities including Paris, Prague, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Munich and Berlin are at the center of Europe’s visual effects hub. Events such as The View, Annecy and FMX are also held throughout Europe each year. Despite setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the actor’s and writer’s strikes, there is currently a high demand for visual effects. It should also be noted that the implications of Brexit have forced many VFX artists to leave the United Kingdom, further boosting the industry across continental Europe.

One of the world’s leading VFX studios, Scanline was founded in Munich in 1989. Known for having developed proprietary fluid simulation software Flowline, Scanline was the recipient of the Scientific and Technical Achievement Academy Award in 2008. Another leading VFX studio founded in Germany is RISE. Currently employing 420 artists across five studios, RISE has contributed to many Marvel Studios shows such as Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers; Endgame. “I’m also terribly proud of our more recent work on Fantastic Beasts 3 [The Secrets of Dumbledore], The Last Voyage of the Demeter and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. We’re currently working with Francis Ford Coppola on his movie, Megalopolis. To be working with him is a dream come true,” says Florian Gellinger, Owner and Executive VFX Producer at RISE.

The Yard won the 2023 César Award for Best Visual Effects for its work on Notre Dame on Fire. (Images courtesy of Pathé and The Yard VFX)

“We would have expected more shows to be back filming already in January, but there is certainly momentum building and Q3 should be completely bonkers. Currently, we’re working with a couple of German production companies on their upcoming features. Not being fully dependent on the international market is a huge benefit in times like these.”

—Florian Gellinger, Owner and Executive VFX Producer, RISE

“We’re not trying to position ourselves to be specialized in a certain area of VFX work,” Gellinger adds. “Our main USP is that we’ve been swimming among the big VFX houses for more than 15 years, providing designs and ideas on eye-level in terms of quality and delivering work in scope you would usually not expect from a vendor of our size. When we opened 17 years ago, we would have never dreamed of co-designing the Avengers’ Thanos “Snap and Blip,” and we certainly know that we still can’t compete in sheer quantity – but we’re delivering on every promise we make, no matter if it’s FX design, creature animation, CG water or environments. That enables us to constantly evolve while offering our teams variety and our clients a very good alternative.”

One of the major players in Europe is UPP, which has just celebrated its 30th anniversary. With nearly 400 employees across offices in Prague, Budapest and Slovakia, UPP was awarded Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Single Episode at the 2023 Emmys for their work on Five Days at Memorial episode “Day Two,” and at the 95th Academy Awards in 2023 they were nominated for Best Visual Effects for All Quiet on The Western Front. UPP’s other recent projects include Gran Turismo, Barbie and Extraction 2. “It’s a very traditional VFX company with a lot of traditional background from filmmaking and special effects,” says UPP CEO Viktor Müller. “We are in a very strange place for visual effects, being that we are in the center of Europe. When we started in the ‘90s, we were always trying to get the technology and get and I started when I was 16. UPP started when I was 18. I can’t imagine doing anything else. So, for me, it’s important: There are people who have been with UPP for years. We have new people, too, that we love as well. I’m proud of that. That’s the reason I never wanted to sell the company because it is a community. Being the best company isn’t my goal, I just want to get nice work for the team and do the best work we can.”

The Yard won the 2023 César Award for Best Visual Effects for its work on Notre Dame on Fire. (Images courtesy of Pathé and The Yard VFX)

The Yard won the 2023 César Award for Best Visual Effects for its work on Notre Dame on Fire. (Images courtesy of Pathé and The Yard VFX)

UPP supplied VFX for Gran Turismo. (Image courtesy of UPP and Columbia Pictures/Sony)

UPP supplied VFX for Gran Turismo. (Image courtesy of UPP and Columbia Pictures/Sony)

ReDefine, which is part of the DNEG group, worked on the HBO Max series Our Flag Means Death. (Image courtesy of ReDefine and HBO)

ReDefine, which is part of the DNEG group, worked on the HBO Max series Our Flag Means Death. (Image courtesy of ReDefine and HBO)

Important Looking Pirates dived into VFX for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. (Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios)

Important Looking Pirates dived into VFX for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. (Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios)

RISE contributed to The Last of Us. (Image courtesy of RISE and HBO)

RISE contributed to The Last of Us. (Image courtesy of RISE and HBO)

“Through strong relationships we forged with filmmakers early on and, of course, based on the quality of our artists’ work, we began to get a foothold in the U.S. film and television industry pretty quickly,” Müller continues. “Winning an Emmy in 2003 for our work on the Children of Dune miniseries made the industry as a whole sit up and take notice. We’re also not strictly a VFX house. We have a post house and an advertising department; we have virtual production, mocap, pre and postvis departments and 3D scanning. Most of our work comes out of the U.S. or U.K. – or even Germany on occasion. In terms of 2024, we’re bidding on some very exciting projects, but if the projects coming through our door, in film and television or streaming, are any indication, I think our 30th year is going to be a very exciting one with a lot of creative challenges and opportunities once the business really starts to ramp up again.”

The Yard is a French independent creative visual effects studio founded in 2014 and dedicated to feature films and episodic content. The Yard has worked on a number of recent international projects, including Ford v Ferrari, WandaVision, Nomadland, The Gray Man, Enola Holmes 2, John Wick Chapter 4, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and Halo, and are also currently working on The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Season 2. “These are great examples of the diversity of VFX projects our teams have been entrusted with by our clients, often as the sole independent VFX vendor based in France,” says The Yard Founder and VFX Supervisor Laurens Ehrmann. “We’ve also worked on various French productions, such as Les Indésirables and Notre Dame on Fire for which we won the César Award for Best Visual Effects. All these projects presented new challenges, facilitating our growth and the fortification of our infrastructure and pipeline. We are proud of all our projects, but I would single out Ford v Ferrari as a pivotal milestone in our journey, propelling us to new heights.”

“For the past 10 years, we have worked on approximately 60 projects for both international and French productions across various formats, including theatrical releases and streaming fiction,” Ehrmann continues. “Today, we are proud to be one of the very few studios to have worked on the most ambitious projects, with the largest VFX budgets in France. This year, two of the largest-scope international productions have chosen The Yard to craft their VFX. We are also proud to bring together the top visual effects artists who have proven their skills in the most renowned international studios and are now looking to return to France. All of our heads of departments have spent many years working around the world – at DNEG, Framestore, Rodeo, ILM and MPC, among others. Recently, The Yard expanded its presence in France with new offices in Montpellier and Lille. This expansion allows us to provide different locations for our new artists. These new offices also enable us to be in close proximity to ARTFX, a world-class VFX school. In 2023, ARTFX was recognized by The Rookies artists network as the top school in the Special Effects category for the fifth consecutive year. Their students won a VES Award in February for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project for ‘Silhouette.’ This unique school/vendor partnership is crucial in supporting our growth with the best French VFX talent.”

Part of the DNEG group, ReDefine is a global team working across 16 studios from North America to Europe and India. In continental Europe, ReDefine has three studios: ReDefine Barcelona, Spain (opened in November 2022 and led by Heads of Studio Jordi Cardus and Daniel Buhigas and Creative Director Patric Roos), ReDefine Sofia, Bulgaria (opened in April 2023 and led by VFX Supervisor Peter Dimitrov and VFX Producer Elena Rapondzhieva) and ReDefine Budapest, Hungary (opened in June 2023 and led by VFX Supervisor Ashraf Elsayed Hassan). ReDefine’s latest VFX projects include Borderlands, Those About To Die, Dune: Part Two and Renegade Nell. “We have worked alongside DNEG on a number of large shows as well as on a wide range of other projects. The company brings a fresh and dynamic approach to visual effects and animation for features and episodic series. It leverages DNEG’s legacy of creative and technical innovation to cater to projects that benefit from its agile, boutique approach,” says Rohan Desai, Managing Director of ReDefine.

UPP provided VFX for Neill Blomkamp’s Gran Turismo, based on the racing simulation video game series.(Image courtesy of UPP and Columbia Pictures/Sony)

UPP provided VFX for Neill Blomkamp’s Gran Turismo, based on the racing simulation video game series. (Image courtesy of UPP and Columbia Pictures/Sony)

ReDefine generated VFX for Borderlands. (Images courtesy of ReDefine and Lionsgate Films)

ReDefine generated VFX for Borderlands. (Images courtesy of ReDefine and Lionsgate Films)

ReDefine generated VFX for Borderlands. (Images courtesy of ReDefine and Lionsgate Films)

Based in Stockholm, Sweden, artists Niklas Jacobson and Yafei Wu, who had been working in L.A. and London. Launched Important Looking Pirates in 2007. “They wanted to bring back all the cool work that was done over there [in L.A. and London] to Sweden when they decided to move back to be close to family and friends. We see ourselves as a high-end, medium-sized boutique VFX facility mainly doing CG-heavy work. We have around 200 full-time employees, going up to 250 including freelancers at times, across Stockholm [main office] London and Hamburg,” says ILP Senior Executive Producer Måns Björklund. “We are very proud of all of our projects. Some of our latest projects include Avatar: The Last Airbender, Shōgun , Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes and Fallout.”

Important Looking Pirates contributedto Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. (Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios)

Important Looking Pirates contributed to Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. (Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios)

The Yard was tasked with recreating old London for Enola Holmes 2, paying close attention to the architecture of the period. (Images courtesy of The Yard VFX and Netflix)

The Yard was tasked with recreating old London for Enola Holmes 2, paying close attention to the architecture of the period. (Images courtesy of The Yard VFX and Netflix)

Second Tour is one of The Yard’s most recent French productions.(Image courtesy of The Yard VFX and Pathé)

Second Tour is one of The Yard’s most recent French productions.
(Image courtesy of The Yard VFX and Pathé)

Several European countries support the film industry with numerous government incentives. The French government and the CNC (The French National Centre of Cinema) have worked hard to promote and support the VFX industry as well as the broader film industry. “The standard tax rebate for International Production for incoming productions is 30%, with a minimum expenditure of 250K euros ($270K),” Ehrmann explains. “Since 2020, international productions can benefit from a 10% extra on top of the normal 30% when the VFX-related expenses with a French VFX studio reach at least 2 million euros ($2.1 million). You do not necessarily have to shoot in France to benefit from this scheme; you can partner with a French vendor only for your VFX needs. According to the latest figures from CNC, since 2020, over 116 million euros in expenditure commitments have been registered thanks to this scheme and the share of VFX-only projects is constantly increasing.”

Also, Germany offers government incentives that support the German VFX industry. The German Federal Film Fund DFFF 1 is a tax rebate of 20%, up to 25% for projects with German production costs of more than $8.4m (€8m). While DFFF 2 is a 25% tax rebate with a per-project cap of $26.25m (€25m). DFFF 2 can be used for entire productions as well as for VFX.

UPP’s Müller admits that the Hungarian government is much better at supporting the film business overall than the Czech Republic. “We have two offices and one is in Hungary,” he says. “Tax incentives are 35%-37% in our Hungary office. There are incentives [in Hungary], though in Prague, to be candid, they could be much more competitive. We’re fortunate to be able to avail ourselves of the incentives in Hungary because we have artists and technicians there working on all of our projects, which I think our clients appreciate.” Similarly, government incentives in Sweden could be improved. “There is a fund, but it isn’t very big, unfortunately, and it has been hard to get access to it,” Björklund adds. “I think there needs to be more done on that front to make Sweden more competitive and in line with the rest of Europe.”

In terms of future industry trends, Müller remains optimistic about AI and sees it as a great tool. “I’m not worried about AI like some people are,” he notes. “AI will never replace truly talented artists. I’m not scared that the film industry will change so much that there will be no visual effects; they will always be part of it and have been since the very first films. It won’t be an easy time for a few years. For example, we will see how the film and gaming industry will merge. I believe there is one point where they will become much closer. Now, though, it will be a tough time because companies have to think about their products a little bit more. The other thing is that children and younger audiences are watching shorter and shorter programs and films, while Hollywood is generating longer and longer films. I think, at this moment, the industry as a whole is kind of amid a revolution or a reset, and a lot of people aren’t sure where things are going to land. Personally, I think it’s ultimately going to be a good thing. I also think that cinema in particular is primed for a major comeback. All of that said, I think the pendulum is going to swing for a while longer before it lands on whatever the new normal is going to be.”

Gellinger is more cautious of the impacts of AI. “The use of AI tools based on other people’s work is a huge issue, and I’d like to see both our competitors and our clients condemn their use as long as the artistic source materials used for ML have not been disclosed,” he argues. “We’re not against the use of AI; we use it in many different areas. But we can’t allow it to mass-harvest the ideas of other people on the internet, to be selectively exploited through a remix machine. It seems we’re currently in the ‘Wild West’ age again, like in the late ‘90s when the music industry almost collapsed, and everyone is either watching or contributing to its demise. The term ‘Generative AI’ is highly misleading because it’s not generating anything new or fresh by itself.” Gellinger further notes that Rise is working through the aftermath of the actor’s and writer’s strikes without, knock on wood, major casualties. “We would have expected more shows to be back filming already in January, but there is certainly momentum building and Q3 should be completely bonkers. Currently, we’re working with a couple of German production companies on their upcoming features. Not being fully dependent on the international market is a huge benefit in times like these.”

For Björklund, getting back to a more normal workload from being super busy after the pandemic and now post-strikes being a bit less busy is currently the most pressing issue. ReDefine, however, is focused on opportunities rather than challenges. “ReDefine operates a technology group from its studio in Barcelona — the Advanced Development Group or ADG — which leverages real-time technology and AI tools to find innovative and impactful solutions to filmmaking challenges in collaboration with DNEG’s virtual production and R&D teams,” Desai explains. “Adrien Saint Girons heads up the team. Adrien’s work with the ADG is further expanding ReDefine’s suite of offerings in Europe to meet the continuously growing demand for the company’s services.”

For The Yard, the COVID-19 crisis led to the number of projects increasing drastically as streaming platforms experienced explosive growth. “This led to the emergence of many new vendors while existing ones expanded to accommodate the increased workload,” Ehrmann says. “However, with the onset of strikes last year, the industry paradigm has shifted. Studios are now aiming to undertake fewer projects, with an expected reduction of over 30%, impacting the volume of work for the global VFX industry. With fewer projects and the proliferation of vendors, I do hope we don’t get into a price war, which would inevitably favor the studios over the vendors. We are facing a downturn in global VFX activity. Still, there is a shared optimism that things will begin to pick up around Q3-Q4 this year. From my point of view, our primary challenge is to maintain our crew size to ensure a swift restart once activity resumes.”

Ehrmann, however, remains positive about the outlook of the French VFX market for the rest of 2024. “For a couple of years now, international studios have chosen to partner with French companies for multiple film services such as shooting, production and VFX, as they can benefit from attractive government incentives. Additionally, the high quality of French art schools and the pool of local talent have reinforced France’s appeal to numerous global creative companies. One Of Us, MILK VFX and, most recently, Rodeo FX have settled in our territory, joining French vendors who already operate on the international market, like The Yard, Light, BUF and MPC Paris. From my perspective, this is a positive trend that demonstrates the attractiveness of France’s VFX industry on multiple levels, presenting a great opportunity to attract larger-scale projects.”

The Yard provided effects to Marvel’sWandaVision for Disney+. (Image courtesy of Marvel Studios)

The Yard provided effects to Marvel’s WandaVision for Disney+. (Image courtesy of Marvel Studios)

The Yard has worked on large-scale Hollywood productions such as John Wick: Chapter 4. (Image courtesy of Lionsgate Films)

The Yard has worked on large-scale Hollywood productions such as John Wick: Chapter 4. (Image courtesy of Lionsgate Films)

Ford v Ferrari was a pivotal milestone in the evolution of The Yard VFX. (Image courtesy of The Yard VFX and Twentieth Century Studios)

Ford v Ferrari was a pivotal milestone in the evolution of The Yard VFX. (Image courtesy of The Yard VFX and Twentieth Century Studios)

Netflix’s The Gray Man was a recent international project for The Yard. (Image courtesy of The Yard VFX and Netflix)

Netflix’s The Gray Man was a recent international project for The Yard. (Image courtesy of The Yard VFX and Netflix)



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