End of an era: Matte World Digital and Fuel

The challenging visual effects climate has again become reality for two leading players in the industry, with announcements today that Matte World Digital is closing its doors and that Fuel VFX has gone into voluntary administration.

Matte World Digital
One of Matte World Digital’s matte paintings for Hugo.

Known for its matte painting prowess, California-based Matte World Digital is a true veteran of the visual effects industry, spanning both the plate glass matte painting era through to the new digital paradigm. The company was established in 1988 by visual effects supervisor Craig Barron, matte painter Michael Pangrazio, and effects producer Krys Demkowicz. It officially closed on August 8th.

MWD’s long list of credits represent some stunning achievements in environments, and include several Academy Award-winning films (Terminator 2, Independence Day, Titanic, The Golden Compass, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Hugo). Owner Barron, who himself had contributed matte paintings to Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, recently delivered a history of matte painting course at SIGGRAPH 2012 (see fxguide’s coverage here).

The studio has goodbye notes from friends and employees on its website, along with a long farewell message. Perhaps this comment from that page sums up a lot of the discussion about visual effects today:

“In addition to rising costs of technology and R&D, studio cost-saving measures and competition from an increasingly global effects industry was making it difficult for a small company to survive.”

Fuel VFX
Fuel’s Holotable graphics for Prometheus.

Meanwhile, Fuel VFX, located in Sydney, Australia has gone into voluntary administration. It had recently completed shots on Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. Prometheus showed off Fuel’s exceptional design work for the holographics and map room sequences, in particular – work fxguide profiled in this article and  fxguidetv #149.

The studio was formed in 2000 and had built up a sizable reputation in delivering big budget Hollywood blockbuster effects on shows like Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Cowboys & Aliens, as well as a host of commercials.

Today, administrators Jirsch Sutherland said in a statement: “The company’s directors have advised Jirsch Sutherland that, being independent, the company has struggled to navigate the downturn in work that is affecting many visual effects companies worldwide at the moment. The voluntary administration process has been called on by the directors as a way of preserving and financially restructuring the business. In addition to the directors’ financial restructuring attempts, the administrators are seeking expressions of interest in the business and assets of the company as a going concern.”

Certainly, fxguide hopes that Fuel can navigate the waters to a new beginning, and we will of course miss the outstanding work from Matte World Digital and its enormous contribution to the visual effects industry.