Is The US Responsible For Bad VFX?

Amidst all the DD news there was a bit of VFX related news coming from the UK.

From a Wired UK article:

British film producer David Heyman says that he cringes when he looks at some of the visual effects in the early Harry Potter films.

Speaking on a panel at the British Embassy’s Creative Content Summit, he said Tuesday: “The visual effects industry developed substantially over the 11 to 12 years of making the films. I look at some of the first film [made in 2001] and want to cringe. Then I look at later films and I’m really proud of them.”

He explained that in the first films, around two-thirds of the effects were done in the United States; however, by the final three films [made between 2009 and 2011], between 90 percent and 95 percent of the visual effects were done in the United Kingdom. This was partly because of the consistency of the 2,500-strong team that worked on Harry Potter. This provided an “apprentice system” for many U.K.-based staff members, giving them an opportunity to “learn from the best” and rise up the ranks to move into post-production or become art directors.

You can view the full comment above at the 6 minute mark above. I argue that most of the work was done in the UK because of huge subsidies offered by the UK government. Eventually WB required that the work be done in the UK for the subsidies.

That being said I’ve always found the nationalist view in VFX quite absurd because the industry is incredibly diverse as I’ve argued before.

Interestingly enough, a report by the British Film Institute made a surprising admission of how much production were to shrink without subsidies:

The report also underlines how vital the Film Tax Relief is to sustaining the global competitiveness of film production in the UK, estimating production would be around 71% smaller without it The Film Tax Relief not only provides fiscal stability but has also helped promote the UK as a highly attractive inward investment location for film production. With the Film Tax Relief costing HM Treasury around £114 million a year, this means it generates about £12 in GDP for every £1 invested. Without it, national GDP would be reduced by approximately £1.4 billion a year and Exchequer revenues by £430 million a year.

The problem with these film commission reports is they never show their exact source for calculating these numbers and they are paid for by the parties that benefit from the subsidies the most. California and many other states in the US try to do the same thing.

Even with the subsidies, there seems to be an unusual lull in VFX work in the UK as mentioned by a few UK VFX vets.

I believe the larger subsidies in Vancouver, Singapore, and now New York are beginning to play a role. For example, the bulk of Double Negative artist openings are in Singapore. Most openings for Framestore are in NY, and surprisingly they just opened an LA studio.

Soldier On.

19 Responses to Is The US Responsible For Bad VFX?

  1. vfxCynic says:

    I do not think that was meant as a slight against US vfx.
    I do not think I could have gotten into vfx without harry potter.

  2. Scott Squires says:

    Yes, majority of the Harry Potter film effects were done in the UK. Not sure where he’s getting his info. Also the first Potter film came out in 2001 and in the 10+ years since have seen great strides in digital doubles and many other digital effects. Regardless of who did it there would have been some limits on what was doable in a totally convincing manor. And of course that had no impact on the profits that were made. No reason to slag US workers, for reasons most were done in UK and level of sophistication was limited, just a cheap shot on his part.

  3. Ymir says:

    I’d be willing to bet if Mr. Heyman looked at ALL vfx at the time of the earlier Potter films, US and UK, he’d probably cringe. As producer, there’s probably a reason he chose to assign the earlier work to US facilities. The UK facilities were still coming into their own. It wasn’t until the third film that Framestore created their wonderful hippogriff that had people stand up and take notice that a UK house could handle a major fx set piece and not just supporting sequences.
    I look back at the PC I had at the time of the early Potter films and I cringe, too.

  4. Well – it’s really convenient to say – well the visual effects for films made almost 10 years later are better than the earlier films – and somehow attribute that to where they were made. It’s a little bit silly considering you could say the same thing for any film with visual effects that was made recently and then compare it to a film made in the late 90’s or early 2000’s.

  5. vfxguy says:

    He’s not saying the UK VFX are better he’s saying that the later VFX are better. I don’t know how you could possibly interpret it otherwise unless you’re looking to start an argument?

  6. ukVFX says:

    You lot really are getting your knickers in a twist over nothing. The issue of were the VFX were done and their historical quality are clearly stated as two separate things. The fact is that the majority of the hero vfx in the first film were done in the USA (Imageworks and R&H), but then so were a significant portion of the hero sequences in every film up until Deathly Hallows 1 & 2 Remember the awesome zombie cave and fire tornado in Half Blood Prince? All ILM. The real question that people should be asking themselves is why were Sony and R&H cut out of the deal after Philosopher’s Stone and replaced with – the significantly more expensive – ILM?

  7. Martyn Drake says:

    When I first started working on the HP films, we did not see any significant investment from Warner Bros. on the VFX front until the very end of the second film.

    I remember that I had to work with antiquated kit (which died and was very difficult to replace) and WB had deliberately decided not to invest in setting up a proper decent infrastructure at Levesden until at least the third film started pre-production.

    During the 2nd film, WB only had a ADSL line at Levesden – they finally saw sense and got Sohonet to come in and sort it all out. Any large amount of data transfer involved a motorbike courier as a consequence. The technology was there to make that problem go away, but Warner/Heyman just did not want to invest at the time. They didn’t seem to be that confident in our Harry back then.

  8. Martyn Drake says:

    And I did hear that a certain *huge* US facility lost out as lead vendor as WB wasn’t happy with the quality of work in a previous HP film – they were subsequently relegated to smaller shots while the UK facilities got the choicest cuts.

  9. Aruna says:

    What the hell? The only one of note is ILM and I don’t think they would put out bad work. The reason they got better is because artists matured. Does anyone do any simple research before going on camera and blaming it all on US VFX? From IMDB on Harry Potter 1 the special fx companies were:

    Cinesite (visual effects) (as Cinesite Europe)
    London, England:

    FB-FX (costume props)
    Middlesex, England:

    Framestore CFC (visual effects)
    London, England:

    Gentle Giant Studios (visual effects scanning)
    Burbank, CA:

    Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) (visual effects)
    San Francisco, CA:

    Lidar Services (visual effects)
    Seattle, WA:

    Plowman Craven & Associates (3D LIDAR scanning and digital modelling)
    Harpenden, England:

    ReelEye Company (special effects contact lenses)
    Snow Business International (snow effects)
    Ebley, Stroud, England:

    Thousand Monkeys (visual effects)
    Marina del Rey, CA:

    Visual Effects Company, The (as The Mill) (motion control)
    London, England:

    • Aruna says:

      I stand corrected.. That was HP2…HP1 the big hitters in the States were ILM, Imageworks and R&H.

      Insert foot>mouth.

      • Martyn Drake says:

        You’re forgetting The Moving Picture Company which acted as lead vendor a number of times on the Harry Potter series..

      • ukVFX says:

        None of the Potter films’ VFX were solely created in the UK. The closest they came to that was on HP7 pts1&2 with MPC and Dneg serving respectivley as lead vendors. But both those films had contributions from Rising Sun (Australia) and the US (Tippet).

  10. pigfat says:

    Jurassic park still looks better than a lot of shit that comes out today.

    • Aruna says:

      Jurassic Park.

      1) Had like 60-75 vfx shots.
      2) Had models and miniatures.
      3) Had ILM working a full year plus.

      Of course it would look better than some of the stuff that comes out today.

      On a side note, here’s a TED talk with Legato talking about Apollo 13, and what people think they remember an event as, and what the event actually was.

  11. I think it’s safe to say Mr. Heyman is simply indulging in a little bit of vfx nationalism and promotion as a way to hedge his continued tax breaks and incentives in the UK; after all he IS a producer, and does benefit directly from the subsidy program.

  12. Polaris Soup says:

    The author J. K. Rawling also specified in her deal with Warner Bros that the majority of work be done in the UK.

  13. Eji T. says:

    Is the U.S. responsible for bad VFX?

    Short answer- Yes:

    Clearly, the reach of The Attack of the Crab Monsters, ambitious as it was, ultimately exceeded its grasp.

    But who among you will stand and say that The Trollenberg Terror fairs any better by comparison, with allowances for budget and schedule taken into proper consideration.

  14. […] for ending the subsidies. Could it be that the recent statement by Framestore’s CEO and the British Film Commission is in anticipation of the EC’s […]

  15. […] This isn’t the first time that kind of statement has been made by UK film professionals. I hope that quote was taken out of context or else he’ll probably issue a standard mea culpa to avoid a fiasco but think about that last sentence for a second. Could you imagine someone from the US VFX industry saying something similar like: […]

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