Cinesite enters animated features arena

Cinesite is one of those visual effects companies that has had to re-invent itself over the years. Owned by Eastman Kodak from 1991 until 2012, it also once had a rich history in miniatures. The company is now privately funded and has offices in both London and Montreal – the latter starting up just this year. Now, the famous VFX house is moving into feature animation, announcing a multi-film partnership through its new content creation division called Comic Animations with 3QU Media, a CG-animated feature film production company. fxguide sat down with Cinesite animation executive and managing partner of Comic Animations, Eamonn Butler, to discuss the move.

The studio’s animation hopes come hot on the heels of their successful foray into the animation field with Beans, an animated short and faux commercial directed by Alvise Avati and produced by Butler. Beans has almost 11 million views on YouTube. Certainly, Cinesite also has a wealth of animation experience on numerous VFX films. But, as Butler notes, one issue for the studio has been having to ramp up and down for each project.

– Watch Beans.

“The problem in visual effects is the lack of continuity,” says Butler. “We’re not really driving what films get made. So I can’t guarantee any artist that we’re going to be doing character animation forever in VFX. So we would be massively growing teams and then shrink straight afterwards. So doing character animation as part of feature animation means we can draw people in for the longer term.”

Butler also acknowledges, unsurprisingly, that “it’s a rocky time in visual effects. It’s interesting because there’s work out there but the landscape is changing quite a lot. The really big companies are pulling away even the small shows now and that’s symptomatic of, when you get large as a company, you have to feed that machine, as opposed to being picky about what you do. So that includes smaller shows that might have been done usually by smaller companies. It means there’s not a lot of choice left in the industry.”

Eamonn Butler.
Eamonn Butler.

Which means, for Cinesite, looking to additional  areas alongside visual effects in which to be creative. Through Comic Animations, it has chosen to be a partner with 3QU Media – helmed by John H. Williams of Vanguard Films and Animation and Henry F. Skelsey, Managing Partner of Fulton Capital Management LLC – on a slate of upcoming films, the first being Charming to be directed by Ross Venokur. “It sort of skewers the Disney tropes and the earlier traditional films,” says Butler. “It’s all CG and will be stereo as well. The character, Prince Charming, is overly blessed with charm since birth, and he can’t resist the ladies and the ladies can’t resist him. So he’s dating Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White – all at the same time. And they all find out and it goes really bad for him. We plan to get into animation in Spring and the movie to be released in 2016.”

Most of the production will take place in Montreal, where the studio is currently ramping up its feature animation team to work on Charming and subsequent productions. “These first films will allow us to build infrastructure, a team, pipeline and so on,” says Butler. “It will help us make the feature animation studio we want to be. At the same time, we’re also going to start to go out and develop our own scripts for our movies. And they’ll be ones we own more of going forward.”

In terms of animation style, Butler plans to maintain a visual effects quality to the work. “We’re very ambitious about the quality,” he says. “I want to capitalize on the high production values we instituted on Beans and then keep it in the box. In VFX you typically have to be a lot more agile, but I learnt my craft at Disney and I feel like we can manage them in a similar way. We want to be successful – make good looking films and make more than one.”

Cinesite will continue to work in visual effects – upcoming projects include The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and San Andreas, for example – but this work will run alongside animated features. “I’d love to do a feature length version of Beans,” admits Butler when asked about future plans, who also notes that the studio also plans on accepting scripts and developing ideas for films.

See the latest job openings at Cinesite’s London and Montreal offices here.

You can find out more about Comic Animations on its new website.