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London's World Class Special Effects

Date posted: 09.12.2010

London is home to some of the biggest and most successful post-production houses in the world. They have the technology, talent and skills to work on big budget, effects laden productions, some of which have been shot elsewhere in the world and come specifically to the capital for post-production.

This month, Film London is sending four of London's leading special effect professionals to PariSFX - France's flagship event devoted to special effects and digital technology which showcases the best major players, young talents and new trends. The event is hosted by the Ile de France Film Commission, who earlier this year supported five French producers at the Film London Production Finance Market. This exchange of talent between Paris and London is an element of an ongoing partnership between the two companies, established to strengthen Film London's links with Europe and to better promote the respective regions internationally.

Attending PariSFX from London will be technicians from Cinesite, The Moving Picture Company (MPC), Double Negative Visual and Steam Driven Films. Between them, they have worked on an impressive roll call of recent features, and will be presenting case studies on Harry Potter, Iron Man 2 and Terry Gilliam's 1884: Yesterday's Future at the event.

Some of the world's leading post-production houses co-exist within a few streets in London's Soho district, in a constant state of competition and collaboration. Their rivalry pushes them to invest heavily in new techniques and skills in order to keep pace with each other. However, they also routinely share large projects and pride themselves on their ability to work harmoniously. For example, Double Negative is currently sharing Disney/Pixar's John Carter of Mars with Cinesite, whilst Framestore and MPC both worked on Clash of the Titans.

Normally, a project is won by one lead facility, with shots then split across the various houses. "At one time London could only accommodate a couple of big movies at a time, but now we can handle half a dozen", says Cinesite managing director Antony Hunt. Outside of the US, London now has the largest concentration of post-production and visual effects capacity, meaning that Hollywood producers can choose the London VFX houses for their biggest movies, which typically involve 1,000 or more special-effects shots.  Producers of these big-budget features can be confident that the work done in London will be cutting edge and that the capital's post houses have the capacity to handle any eventuality and push the limits of what is achievable.

Demonstrating the high level of collaboration which regularly takes place between London's competing VFX companies, Cinesite and MPC will deliver a double presentation on their joint work on the Harry Potter series at PariSFX.

Art director Virginie Bourdin will be deconstructing MPC's work on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1, focusing on the concept work the artists created and how this integrates with the visual effects pipeline. This presentation will give an insight into the process of creative decision making in movies. Cinesite's 2D and sequence supervisor Andy Robinson and lead technical director/CG supervisor, Holger Voss, will be showcasing the facility's work on Deathly Hallows such as creating Lord Voldemort's snake-like nose, the ghost of Dumbledore, the Patronus Doe and breathtaking environments, whilst discussing in depth the challenges and techniques used to bring the film to life.

In fact, all four of the London facility houses attending PariSFX have built their business on a decade of Harry Potter. Cinesite has doubled in size over the past year, whilst according to Double Negative CEO Matt Holben the Potter series has been a "huge backbone" for their business, giving them the stability to invest in their Research & Development (R&D) infrastructure. All of London's major houses now have R&D departments and it is this ability for the sector to keep delivering excellence while pushing creative boundaries that has cemented the reputation of the capital's post-production sector.

London's post-production industry is currently enjoying an extremely healthy period. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and John Carter of Mars have all chosen London, committing to significant spend in the capital. Film-makers now come to the UK for post-production even if they do not qualify for the UK tax credit, as with Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are and 20th Century Fox's Marmaduke.

London is now regarded as a VFX destination on par with Hollywood in terms of quality and capacity. "Now our service is exactly the same", says UK Screen Association head Gaynor Davenport. "We're absolutely up there".

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