The Visual Effects Society held their second annual Production Summit this past Saturday in Marina Del Rey. This is a unique event designed to break out of the day to day routine and think about the future as well as hear from an amazing group of speakers and panelists.

The Visual Effects Society held their second annual Production Summit this past Saturday at the Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey. “Navigating Tomorrow’s Business Models” was the theme and VES Executive Director Eric Roth set the stage and defined the event as looking at how the economy, technology, globalization and other factors are affecting our business and how we can thrive and survive the next five years.

VES Chair Jeff Okun served as master of ceremonies and further defined the day ahead as attempting to “force our heads up out of the rut that we all fall into, look around like prairie dogs… decide, define, decipher… figure out what the future is and instead of figuring out how I’m going to get to the future, we’re at the stage now where we have to figure out how we’re going to get to the future. How we’re going to do this in a lock step fashion and create an entertainment industry that actually let’s people have not just creative input in it but let’s them earn a living wage across the board.”

He continued to define the day ahead by say that they were planning to “twist your vision of what you think you know in order to break you out of that rut and present you with a new way to look at the future that you can begin to plan, or change your plan to get into this future.”

Dr. Rich Terrile, NASA/JPL Astronomer & Evolutionary Computation Designer

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Dr Rich Terrile

Dr. Rich Terrile is an astronomer and the Director of the Center for Evolutionary Computation and Automated Design at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He uses techniques based on biological evolution and development to advance the fields of robotics and computer intelligence.

Terrile stated his goal was for everyone to leave his thirty minute talk with “at least three different things that you’re going to want to write down and tell other people”. His talk was the perfect start to the day as he truly lives and thinks in the future “… we are going to see, in a very, very short time, not in twenty years or fifty years or one hundred years, in the immediate future… very, very dramatic changes in what we do.”

13 years From Fastest Computer in the World to Toy

“If you are doing business as usual, if you think the future is going to be like the past, from your experiences, you’re dead wrong because as human beings we are incapable of really, truly understanding the impact of what is going to happen to us because of things like Moore’s Law ( wikipedia )”. Gordon Moore (Intel co-founder) observed in 1965 that computational power increases every 18 months.

Terrile said the cycle is actually every 13 months and showed a chart graphing that growth and then added Playstations to it to illustrate that even in “toys” Moore’s law applies. “The Playstation 3 in 2006 was as powerful as the fastest computer in the world in 1993, if I had one of these things [Playstation 3] in 1993, people would murder me for it. This machine [1993 computer] cost over 50 million dollars, this machine [Playstation 3] cost me $500 and my six year old plays with it”.

“It took thirteen years for the fastest computer in the world to become a toy. The fastest computer in the world today can compute faster than you can.” He explained that it can be argued that Moore’s law will not go on forever but it doesn’t have to. “Our supercomputers today, the fastest computers in the world, compute faster than you can… so we’re going to have artificial intelligence, machines that are conscious… we’ve already got the capability on our shelves to do that and that capability will be on your shelves sitting under your TV’s in 10 years, or in your pockets”.

10Oct/VES_Summit/inventionTechnology Adoption

Terrile charted how long certain inventions took to be adopted by 1/4 of the U.S. Population. It took 39 years for the telephone, 28 years for television, 16 years for mobile phones… Facebook took less than 2 years. “We’re seeing this incredible decrease in the amount of time it takes for a paradigm to reach huge masses of people, this is where we can make the biggest mistakes in this industry…”.

He explained that the people running the industry are used to things like DVD players taking a decade to reach major acceptance. If you are used to thinking in terms like that when you look at 3D TV you’d think it will take 15 years but he offers that people starting to work today are used to instant gratification.


Peak of Inflated Expectations

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Gartner Hype Cycle

The Gartner Hype Cycle ( see wikipedia or additional resources ) was shown illustrating the path technology takes and Dr. Terrile made some humorous comparisons placing current 3D movies along the curve. “At the top there is Avatar… and we’re down here with 3D Piranha… and suddenly we climb out of this trough and maybe by the time we get to Avatar 2 we’ll be back on the Plateau of Productivity”. He suggested plotting ones favorite technology as to where it fits on this curve, bearing “in mind that things go through these kinds of things and they also go through these false expectations where you glom onto the wrong technology initially and only then does the right one come along.”

Evolution, Simulation and Machines Waking Up

“Try and discover, that’s what evolution does,” said Terrile. “Evolution tries a lot of different things and if it tries the wrong thing you’re dead, if it tries the right thing you’ve got a survivable being. We can actually simulate evolution in a computer and that’s what I do, that’s what I do for a living, I’m an applied evolutionist. Nature has two design rules, random variation and selection. Consciousness has arisen from the exquisite architectures developed by evolution.”

His group is interested in designing software using rules of evolution, growing it the same way nature does. “The field I work in is called evolutionary computation, we take the mathematics of evolution, we put it in a computer, we put it in many many computers and we just try things. And we just make mistakes like you wouldn’t believe, we make constant mistakes, but evolution is a process that is so damn good at finding the one mistake in your favor, that gets rarely made, but it will find those mistakes and capitalize on them. Believe me it works… we’ve discovered things that people could… we have beat engineers at designing spacecraft components when I know nothing about designing spacecraft power systems but I can design, I can replicate the power system that we flew on Mars starting from random numbers, using evolution… that’s scary. But that is an incredible, powerful, ancient process that we are now putting in our computational engines and using to discover new knowledge. And when the machines wake up, they are not going to wake up because we figured out exactly what to do, they are going to wake up because they discovered it. And I really believe that and I really believe that’s going to happen very soon.”

10Oct/VES_Summit/reality “Current supercomputers operate about twice as fast as the human brain.” Terille offered that in a decade we’ll be able to simulate an entire human life in a supercomputer and that in 30 years that technology will be in a “toy” and can do it in an hour. He feels that in 30 years computers will be simulating conscious entities. He remarked that “in 30 years there will be more conscious entities in computers than there are people today on this planet.”

This talk was fast paced, fascinating and intense, the kind of talk that no matter how hard we try to bring you a slice of it we cannot do it justice. It is a credit to the organizers for a conference like this to start with a talk that begins with Moore’s Law, wanders through Schrödinger’s cat ( wikipedia ) and ends by questioning if life as we know it is a simulation.. It set the stage that this was not going to be your typical day and we should expand our thinking far outside our normal boundaries and comfort level.

How Pushing the On-Set Tech Envelope Affects Your Business

The title of this panel also included “Does it come with wheels?” which would be a common thread for this session which discussed how many roles and technologies are moving onto the set.

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Does it come with Wheels Panel

Panel (listed as seated left to right in photo)

  • Dan Germain – WW Strategic Business Dev., DVS Digital Video Inc.
  • Vince Pace – CEO, Cinematographer & Innovator, PACE
  • David Morin – Consultant, Autodesk / Chair, Joint Technology Committee on Virtual Production
  • Mark Jaszberenyi – Founder, Colorfront
  • Moderator: Ron Prince – Editor, British Cinematographer / Managing Director, Prince PR
  • Jon Ferguy – Co-Owner, Sohonet
  • Jonas Thaler – SrVP Post Production, Anschutz Film Group/Walden Media
  • Glenn Kennel – President & CEO, ARRI, Inc.

Mountains of Information

The panel started with Jon Ferguy and Jonas Thaler discussing working with Sohonet’s Vessel (see fxguidetv episode #084 from NAB). Managing data and workflows from on set through final delivery and coping with massive amounts of data and securing valid metadata would be big topics throughout this panel.

Vince Pace discussed how moving a Pablo on set has helped him on projects by getting all the people involved earlier in the process and closing communication gaps that can happen too easily with departmentalized thinking. Pace mentioned they currently have that workflow deployed on seven films and he says “we’re talking mountains of information, it’s an encyclopedia that we’re creating on set in 3D in a digital arena.”

Glenn Kennel mentioned that the Arri Raw for Alexa will be introduced “beginning of next year” in camera version three and the SDK will be released to partners allowing full metadata to travel with the raw images.

Zero Post

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Digital Mandala

“Zero Post”, the idea that the studios would like to shorten the time from from end of principal photography to release date, came up several times. David Morin talked about this in terms of work with a joint technology committee. He showed a graphic with three boxes representing traditional analog moviemaking as three boxes Pre-Production, Production and Post Production. He then filled those boxes at various levels to represent digital moviemaking today (Preproduction 70% full, Production 20% and Post 100%). He next filled all boxes 100% to represent tomorrow and then showed a graphic (Digital Mandalla) that the joint committee came up with to represent the convergence that could bring.

Dan Germain brought his experience as a traditional post production supplier being brought increasingly “on wheels” to the set. “It really is a new industry…there are still a lot of problems to be solved.” “The industry is definitely changing, there is no one fixed workflow solution…” Much discussion revolved around lack of standards for metadata and carrying that through the production and the risks for human intervention to be required and introduce inaccuracies.

Let it go on Post Production’s Budget

In the question and answer period Steven Poster, ASC, asked about scaling this technology for smaller budget projects. Poster feels that it is difficult currently for the cinematographer to remain involved in the process and maintain consistency. Things go to multiple visual effects houses and when the cinematographer goes to finalize the look it is all different.

“The concept of timing everything before it goes into compositing is essential,” says Poster. “I learned that very early on Stuart Little 2 and have been fighting for that ever since and every single budget I have says ‘no, we don’t want you to do that because I don’t want that on my budget, let it go on Post Production’s budget and you can fix it later.’ I think that’s a terrible, terrible mistake.”

Jeff Miller – The Walt Disney Studios

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Jeff Miller

Jeff Miller is President Worldwide Post Production & Operations for The Walt Disney Studios. His talk was on what happens to the film after it completes visual effects.

Day and Date

Visual Effects often considers itself the last stop (before DI) on a film but Miller pointed out that on Alice in Wonderland there were 13,500 tasks that had to be completed AFTER all of post was completed to deliver Alice on the same day and date worldwide in 28 languages. The complexity of his job setting due dates for films and getting completed prints into theaters worldwide is staggering.

Miller showed a graphic comparing workflow in 1987 to 2005, it showed a process that was one event on a flowchart “cut negative” had exploded to it’s own flowchart of over 30 steps with the advent of DI.

No Two Snowflakes are Alike

To illustrate the new complexities Miller said a friend of his referred to these workflows as ‘snowflakes’. “The 3D workflow that we used to make Alice in Wonderland is different than the 3D workflow that we’re using on Pirates of the Caribbean right now it’s also different from what we’re using on Tron, says Miller.

He predicts that we will evolve to a more common, repeatable workflow as this technology matures. Miller offered a graphic showing the difference in deliverables from 1999 vesus today. In 1999 there was one capture method, film. There was an average of 143 visual effects shots per film, two audio mixes (stereo and 5.1) and they produced the film in 7 languages.

Today those numbers are five capture methods: Film, Digital Tape, Digital File, Stereoscopic or Motion Capture. An average film has 935 vfx shots, there are 8 different audio mixes required. He said that it was front page news on Variety when they decided to do release The Lion King on the same day and date in 7 languages. “Today we do 42 languages, day and date, and..it’s assumed it’s going to happen”.

One Film Being Shot on Film

“A lot of people were saying earlier that digital is coming, I think digital is here. We really only have one motion picture that is being lensed on film”. Disney has only ONE film being shot on film currently. This was almost a passing comment, it drew no gasp from the crowd. He sees this change being driven by factors like the desire to have dailies quicker and distributed more widely, he mentioned marketing and game developers as two groups who needed elements as early as possible.

Shrinking Timeframes, Added Complexity

Anyone who has worked on feature films has likely had a deadline shift or been told certain shots have to be finished because they were locking certain reels to meet duplication deadlines will appreciate his next point. To deliver a film today is a complex logistics puzzle involving multiple vendors loated around the world with finite capacity simply to get the prints out on time.

Some of the required deliveries are for digital cinemas, shipping a hard drive, eliminating the option of shipping reels later as the drive must go with the complete film. The added pressure of delivering some films simultaneously Day and Date to over 100 countries around the world is forcing changes.

For the original Pirates of the Caribbean they opened day and date in 105 countries and in 25 languages. This required producing over 400 million feet of film which required about a five week timeframe just to produce and ship prints. “I think the biggest take away that I’m trying to get to today is that yes, we are hitting our dates. In fact I’ve never missed a date in my entire releases,” relates Miller.”We’re putting a lot of pressure on this process and with all the engineering and technical capabilities in this room – we need to build a better foundation across this so we’re not constantly passing a hot potato to the next operating department involved in the workflow. The number one thing we have to do is have a robust workflow across this”.

He related a DI session where he asked what someone in the room was doing – he was manually conforming to verify that the shots were in. “That doesn’t work in the future. We need to make as much automation in this process, as much robustness throughout this workflow so then we can go back and give our filmmakers as much time as necessary to get the creative vision that they are trying to do and take this away from their plate”.

Communication and 10 gig Pipe

Miller proposed some solutions starting with turning over elements sooner and starting the process earlier. “Just like we do in audio where everything happens simultaneously around the world, we need to make sure that is happening in the production, visual effects, post production and mastering workflow,” he said. He also called for some form of integrated, shared resource where status of various steps could be checked on and confirmed without having to call coordinators all over the globe for status updates. He brought this back to editorial and metadata… eliminating wasted time by everyone having access to what they need to do their job when they need it though some common platform for scheduling but also technical processes.

Next on his list was global connectivity. Miller mentioned how nice it is in London to be able to walk between the various shops (all located near each other). He longs to create that feeling between all parts of the process regardless of location, adding “every supplier who is going to work with me… I guarantee in the next couple of years is going to have a 10 gig pipe.”

It’s So Cool! How an ‘Aha’ Moment Offers New Business Opportunities

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New Business Opportunities Panel

Panel (listed as seated left to right in photo)

  • Seth Rosenthal – President, Tweak Software
  • Tony Clark, ACS – Co-Founder / Director, Rising Sun Pictures
  • Don Parker – CEO / Co-Founder, Shotgun Software
  • Moderator: Rob Bredow – CTO, Sony Pictures Imageworks / VFX Supervisor
  • Olcun Tan – Co-Founder / Head of R&D Gradient Effects
  • Matt Plec – Product Designer, Nuke

Solutions for Problems

This panel had some interesting stories about companies evolving and collaborating. Recently three of the panelists have announced workflow solutions integrating their products for better user experience – Shotgun (a project management system) now works with RV (player) and cineSync (remote collaboration) allowing such things like notes made in a cineSync session to appear in Shotgun. Many of these projects evolved from internal company needs that then had application on a wider scale.

For example, Rising Sun’s location in Australia led them to develop a system where files could be shared between two locations, simultaneously cue both locations to a given frame or be played at same time and grew to include drawing notes on frames and more sophisticated interaction. Olcun Tan was unique on the panel as his company provides a service rather than a product but his business also grew from an in-house need, in this case the need to start working on a shot before plates were ready to be turned over. Using various technologies including Lidar scanning they produce a “digital fingerprint” of the entire set or location that they can extract sections of as they need it. They call this service GLoW – more at gradientfx.com.

Focus

Seth Rosenthal explained that they started as a high end boutique shop doing visual effects. They were veterans of ILM and found themselves missing tools they were used to and that were not available commercially. After a while they decided “You can’t have a company with multiple focuses, you just can’t do two things”. They opted to exit the visual effects business to focus on software.

Front of House, Back of House

There was discussion about the cost of doing in house software, the real costs of providing software as open source, and the desire of vfx companies to focus specialized software efforts to produce unique advantages. Nuke was used as an example, once they felt there was no longer a competitive advantage to keep it in house Digital Domain looked to market it to the industry which evolved into transitioning it to The Foundry. Nuke now has such wide industry adoption it is to everyone’s advantage when it comes to hiring artists who know the software and spurring development.

Parker suggested hiring “software designers, people that focus on usability.” While some engineers can do both, “itt’s really nice to just have one person focused on usability and getting that person involved very early. Also don’t underestimate the support side.”

“Support is the new marketing. We invest really, really heavily on support. It’s about taking care of the people that are using your software”. Parker said many of them used to work in restaurants so they use the ‘front of house’, ‘back of house’ terminology. “Our ‘front of house’ is now larger than our ‘back of house’,” Parker relates.

This panel made you think about new business opportunities as well as explaining some of the pitfalls to look out for and a peek at the passions behind some companies most of us know.

Bill Mechanic – Producer and CEO, Pandemonium Films

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Steven Gaydos with Bill Mechanic

Bill Mechanic has a long history in the business having run several major studios and produced many films including recently Coraline. You can read his bio here.

Mechanic was interviewed by Steven Gaydos, the Executive Editor of Variety who started with the topic “All tent poles, all the time”. Mechanic explained that big marketing budgets have a lot to do with the decisions that drive big studios to only produce ‘tent pole’ movies. “I always view Hollywood like Detroit was ten years ago. The big three were very successful, giant corporations that were completely marketing driven: they didn’t give a shit if their cars were any good, they didn’t care if you liked them. They just cared that they could buy enough television to convince you to buy a new car every year, every other year or every third year,” he says. “They were making things that nobody liked and they crashed. Every one of them either went into bankruptcy and came out the other side – that’s what Hollywood’s facing.”

Mechanic cited marketing budgets as high as 100 million dollars (for only the US). “In some ways having unlimited amounts of money make for worse pictures. Creatively you are forced to make decisions on a movie when you don’t have money that sometimes are the best thing”.

Longevity

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Falling DVD Sales

One of the consequences of the phenomenon of always chasing the blockbuster is that movies are seeing less longevity. Mechanic showed a slide showing how DVD sales have been declining, alarmingly so.

“The simple conclusion of that chart is ‘you’re making movies that have less and less emotional appeal’,” Mechanic relates. “I saw the movie in the theater but now you want me to buy it, but we’re going to change the format on me from DVD to Blu-Ray and I’m going to charge you more money, I’m going to charge you more money for a worse movie and think that you’re stupid enough to buy it”. A humorous discussion followed about directors, their styles and directors having the power over final cut of the film. “To me it takes the equilibrium out of the system, it takes trust out of the system,” says Mechanic. “At the end of the day you have to trust the other person you’re in business with.”


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Biggest Box Office

This list shown on slide (recreated here as the photo of the screen was hard to read) was shown to compare the types of films through the years and how story driven adult stories are markedly absent. While the list reads like good news for visual effects, the impact on secondary markets like DVD sales is chilling.

“I was kind of hoping for a cataclysm… you know a Phoenix rises from the ashes,” says Mechanic. “Last year I think it was the summer started off with two or three films that failed. It would actually be not very much fun, not fun for anybody but it would actually be good for the business to have some of those big movies just fall flat on their face. Have everybody say ‘oh, there’s a risk inherent involved in this stuff and we have to go back to making movies”.

This session was a treat, Mechanic is charismatic and was very willing to speak very frankly.

Tomorrow’s Production Renaissance: Adapting to Ever-Changing Roles

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Changing Roles Panel

Panel (listed as seated left to right in photo)

  • James Chressantis, ASC – Director / Producer
  • Shane Mahan – Co-Owner, Legacy Effects / VFX Supervisor
  • Jenny Fulle – Founder and Visual Effects Producer, The Creative-Cartel
  • Moderator: Carolyn Giardina – Media and Entertainment Journalist
  • Robert Stromberg, Production Designer
  • Ed Jones – Chief Executive Officer, Reel FX Creative Studios

Moderator Carolyn Giardina started by finding out about the panels career paths, how their roles evolved.

Shane Mahan grew up with a passion for movie creatures that led him to work with Stan Winston for 25 years before starting Legacy Effects after Stan passed away.

Ed Jones found his role changing after completing 1600 shots in one year using optical techniques for Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Empire of the Sun and focused on the transition to a digital workflow.

James Chressantis explained his evolution in the business, starting as a sculptor, visual artist, photographer, cinematographer before realizing “I’m shooting the movie, helping direct it and sometimes ghost producing it” and becoming a Director.

Robert Stromberg won the Oscar as Production Designer for Avatar. He has a long history in visual effects starting because his of his neighbor: “I grew up as a little kid with my dad and Phil Tippett doing stop motion in our garage”. Stromberg observed that with more and more houses beging required to complete visual effects on a film his role changed as the need increased for someone to follow the film making sure this were consistant. When looking for a visual effects shop he said the balance between technical and creative is key, both have to be strong.

Jenny Fulle spent 11 years as Executive Vice President of Sony Imageworks and 30 years total in large vfx houses. She observed a change in the last 5 years or so where hardware and software have become more affordable to the point where you don’t need to only use a large visual effects house to do the work “… just a pure estimate I would say the 85% of visual effects done today can be done on a system bought at Best Buy with some clever engineering and pipeline setup”. She found it increasing difficult to keep a crew of up to 1200 people on track and started exploring the idea of moving to a smaller, passionate team and looking for new ways to do the work for less money and accomodate smaller films.

The topic turned to 3D Stereoscopic filmmaking and how we might start seeing things like on set devices to capture data to aid in post conversions. Stromberg had the experience of working on both Avatar and Alice in Wonderland. He explained on Avatar James Cameron thought about the 3D in every shot and it was all his vision compared to Alice which was post converted by a team of people and it was rushed. “Jim approached it like you would sound, he always said it’s like mono and stereo”.

Trends impacting the business

In response to a topic of trends the panel might see as having a big impact Jones mentioned the various new distribution opportunities which related to earlier in the day when Chressantis mentioned he is exploring new ways of looking at related materials finding that DVD extras are not very successful due to clunky menu limitations. This could include things like creating iPad materials to accompany the film. Fulle credited online schools, affordable software and hardware and a “global digital community” as removing physical location as a barrier to young people entering the business.

Chressantis summed up the session well “We need a renaissance in story telling… I’ve been traveling the world and the competition internationally, in all these countries there are filmmakers screaming up and people want to see films in their own language – that means less marketplace for our films. We have to make smaller, leaner, meaner and better films”.

The Madonna Approach: The Only Constant is Change

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Constant Change Panel

Panel (listed as seated left to right in photo)

  • William Sargent – Chief Executive and Co-Founder of Framestore
  • Warren Franklin – CEO, Rainmaker Entertainment, Vice Chair, DigiBC
  • Cliff Plumer – CEO, Digital Domain
  • Moderator: David S. Cohen – Reporter / Feature Editor, Variety
  • John Kilkenny – Executive VP, Twentieth Century Fox
  • Lynwen Brennan – President / General Manager, ILM / Skywalker Sound
  • Michael Fink – President, Visual Effects Worldwide, Prime Focus Ltd.

The panel started by showing the YouTube clip from May of 2009 “The Vendor Client relationship – in real world situations” from Scofield Editorial. This clip illustrates the kind of conversations post production people find themselves having with clients but transferred to the real world, like asking for a steak at hamburger prices or to do the job from free and “we’ll make it up on the next one”.

Keeping companies healthy

The panel discussed that you have to have trust with your customers, be diversified and use creative ways to partner with customers to survive and look five years ahead. While the rest of the panel represented facilities, John Kilkenny from Fox is actually their customer, he said it is not the technology but rather the talent that makes a company successful and suggested companies grow talent as a way to control costs. He also addressed the infamous quote Cohen had reported a few years ago from an un-named source who said they did not feel like they had done their job unless they had driven at least one vfx company out of business.

Kilkenny responded that his “job at Fox is to try to get the best deal I can get, but I have to make sure I don’t grind that business because it does me no good if that company suffers to the point where their profit margins are so small that they have to close their doors. Healthy competition is what helps the budgets.” He discussed shorter schedules and the old phrase ‘better, faster, cheaper – choose two’. “I think it’s choose one, says Kilkenny. “You can’t go fast and cheap. You can’t go good and cheap. It’s very, very difficult because of the demands that are being placed on the visual effects companies.”

Kilkenny explained that the studios don’t understand how difficult visual effects are or how long it takes to do a shot, joking that he wanted to put a workstation and artist outside an executive’s office with instructions that every time the executive walked by they should ask for a change and see how long it takes. He also talked about partnering with visual effects companies to examine scripts early on to identify problematic sequences and explore creative solutions to save budgets. Kilkenny works with vfx houses to bundle jobs to allow them to better plan their growth and he can benefit from discounts that can occur from giving the house a higher combined budget. He also mentioned later in the panel that when things are slow he has seen big companies taking work that would normally fall to smaller shops which can also put the smaller shops out of business and that often the harder shots have the smallest profit margins.

Michael Fink discussed the importance of having a global pipeline, solid infrastructure and being very focused on communication. In terms of talent Fink, feels that “an expensive artist is actually very cheap.They’re very productive… and if you don’t pick the wrong artist you’ll get somebody who can turn out five shots while somebody else turns out one.” Talent was a big topic with the panel and a focus for the various companies represented. The trend seems to be hand picking artists from around the world, growing them where they are, as well as having artists working remotely. William Sargent explained that cheap labor does not stay cheap for long. When asked for action items he said that growing new talent and making sure that talent can have a quality of life and balance were key.

Small, Incestuous Industry

Fink feels that hiring good talent is also a great way to attract other good talent. “When we’re looking for talent, the best way to find it…is to hire the best people you can find and the other talent comes looking,” says Fink. Lynwen Brennan agreed adding that “it’s a small, incestuous industry. Even though it’s global and growing all the time, everybody knows everybody else. For talent there’s really three ways to look at it, one is finding the existing talent that is out there and attracting them to come to your company. The second, hugely important, is making sure the core talent that’s the lifeblood of your company stays happy and challenged and nurtured…and then the third is finding diamonds in the rough, finding the new talent out there and training them.”

Cohen told a story from an interview he did with Steve Jobs from Apple many years ago and he asked him about talent. He told him to look at his tape recorder and said it may be the best tape recorder out there or maybe there is a tape recorder that is twice as good… but with people you may have someone who is 100 times as good. He said to hire the best people and let them do what they do.

Cheap labor was discussed along with tax incentives and both were dismissed as not long term solutions. Cheap labor does not stay cheap and tax incentives have been under attack in some places as not working and can change, as can value of currency between countries. Cooperation between facilities was a topic with Fink relating how in the UK with facilities located so close and the pub culture that often problems get solved across company divides. Kilkenny talked of a job where a facility was able to borrow artists from another facility when they had overflow needs.

Wrapping it Up

In terms of the overall event we would urge anyone passionate about visual effects or even filmmaking to attend this conference every year. It offers rare access to leaders and innovators in the field. In the final Q&A Rose Duignan from Kerner Optical said she was surprised by the lack of passion that existed at last year’s event about topics like outsourcing. We covered the event last year and observed that in spite of the design of the event certain issues kept bubbling to the surface.

That did not happen this year, in fact the final panel had the heads of many major facilities and we kept hoping for a question about the lack of a trade association or the recent announcement of organizing efforts by IBEW. Not only did those topics not come up but there was no Q&A for that session and most of panelists left the room before we could ask these questions. While we think it is great to think of the future and expand horizons there are many crippling issues facing visual effects companies and individual artists today that desperately deserve a forum.

The VES Production Summit 2010 was put together by the Production Summit committee of VES Sharon Berlin, Bob Coleman, Carolyn Giardina, Ruth Hauer, Ellen Pasternak, Colin Ritchie, Randy Starr, Thomas Tanneberger with two co-chairs Jeff Okun and Rita Cahill along with Brent Armstrong from the VES office.

Sponsors of the event were Side Effects, Variety, Sony Imageworks, NBC Universal Studios, Asylum and Encore Hollywood.

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