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How to build a VFX study



Like any adventure in life, there is no right or wrong way to start creating your VFX studio. But to see how others have done it, we've talked to several people who have established themselves in the 3D movie world. Read on to find out their suggestions, suggestions and experiences and prepare to be inspired, regardless of where you are in your career.

01. Start small and scale

A robot disguised as a Victorian man

The eighth series of Doctor Who presented Milk with the opportunity to create some of its biggest VFXs to date

There is no doubt that most of the VFX studies are born when one or more senior artists start from a study established to start on their own. This is exactly the way Milk VFX was created in June 2013. CEO Will Cohen explains: "When The Mill made the decision to close the Film & TV department, a small group of us took the opportunity. unique to create yourself. "

Milk started in London with just 40 people and three key projects, Sherlock series three, the episode of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and a television adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. From there he became a studio famous for his work in high-level film and television projects.

The milk team

In 2017, Milk VFX ranked No. 73 in the Sunday Times Tech Track 100

Within four years, the team had gradually grown to 150 people and opened a second small studio in Cardiff, Wales. Today it has 250 artists on board and has just announced a third studio space in Fitzrovia, London.

Asked how the firm has been able to establish such a solid reputation in the heart of the industry, Cohen puts everything to the test of the team's combined experience.

"We were very lucky with the contacts and the track record we had between us and the work we were able to guarantee helped us to create our high quality reputation.We have won our first BAFTA Television Craft Award for Doctor Who : Day of the Doctor – which for us was a fairy tale. "

02. Save and spend well

Greek amphitheater

Sound investment has seen the land of milk work in films like Hercules

There's the small matter of reaching the end of your first year with money in the bank, which is a "make-or-break" moment for any new business. "We were a self-financing business, we did not start with millions of pounds," explains Cohen.

"Two key decisions have helped us: invest money and energy in the milk brand correctly when we set up and subsequently (in 2017) undertake the investment from BGF and decide to grow the business with an appropriate strategy".

Cohen also states that ensuring the technical scalability of the business was also a crucial factor for their initial success, particularly for investments in cloud technology.

Lexhag logo on a window

Lexhag also produces equipment, 3D prints, helps design sets, builds cameras and more

It was a different journey for Alexis Haggar when he founded his studio Lexof Lexhag in 2009. "Up until then, I had graduated from film school and moved into the special effects sector," he explains.

"It was more or less the time when the CGI was becoming more mainstream, no longer a luxury but a necessity for many productions, but we regularly talked about how the CG would take over the FX industry. 3D animation, so I was already fast enough with some of the professional software. "

Haggar continued to progress in his SFX career until he met Paul McGuinness, a veteran BBC visual effects known for working through practical and digital effects.

"I worked with him for a few years, gaining a lot of knowledge and experience in both areas and, immediately after a brilliant period of work with him, I decided it was time to install Lexhag," says Haggar. From there he spent the full amount of his rent savings on a small basement in Soho. The rest, as they say, is history.

03. Focus on your niche

A study of busy people

A lively study can wait, the first steps involve the small start

Despite not having extensive experience in the VFX industry, Haggar claims that his combined experience gave him a unique advantage. "If nothing else, I had a broader view of the industry, my journey was to get to know the directors and work with them to create their visions."

"Of course, knowing how to produce VFX shots and having a reliable core skill is also essential, and when you win your first job, it is more than likely that you hire others to work with you and build a team."

At the beginning Lexhag's reputation was based on projects that combined practical and digital effects, as well as Haggar's strong interest in the horror genre. It was this that led him to work on their first television series, Dead Set by Charlie Brooker.

He continues: "It's an extremely competitive market, so everything that makes you stand out is positive: having a niche and doing something very good, which you can repeat, means you can create a more sustainable business".

A spectral figure of undead that stretches through the falling leaves

From a luxurious time, CGI has become a mainstay of television and movies

The unfortunate side effect of having a niche is becoming pigeonholed, something that Lexhag constantly fights by learning and experimenting with new techniques or technologies.

"We are a creative company that solves problems, solving the challenges of history: our team is multi-experienced and we love using all our skills to create, make CGI, shoot elements, fabricate equipment, prototype physical ideas, 3D print and develop props, help design sets, build characters, design cameras and much more, "says Haggar.

For those who consider a business similar to Haggar's, he has some wise advice: "It's hard work and you have to work smart, be ready to do a little bit of everything, not just what you love You will need to be the kind of person who can concentrate his efforts and enjoy all aspects of running a business. "

"As boring as it may seem, having a good account system and a delivery pipeline will be critical to the success of your practice and, above all, to taking care of people."

04. Do not be fussy (to begin with)

A sandstorm with huge clouds in the shape of horses

Rob Redman says that anyone with their own VFX studio should be ready to dedicate a third of their time to the administration

For the owner of Pariah Studios (and the 3D World editor) Rob Redman, it was not necessary to go all in with his life savings. "I've been a photographer for years and I was doing a lot of image editing, which then developed into 3D," he explains.

"I founded Pariah Studios as a freelancer, something" on-the-side ": it has not become a company for years, but I started to build." Redman claims to have enjoyed the creative freedom allowed by this kind of organic growth. "I had the design and the 3D and the camera work all worked together," he adds.

Soon in the life of every studio, the freedom to choose projects will be an unsustainable luxury. As Redman explains: "At the beginning you do not have a reputation, or if you do it is inside somebody else's company".

"You will not start so much, so take it all, it's only when you start getting more that you can pick and choose, do not forget that in a couple of years, you need a budget for the latest devices and faster computers. . "

05. Choose a good position

A burning forest

This fiery landscape made by Milk for Altered Carbon is not the best place to work

Cohen believes that experience and position are important for creating a successful study: "We discovered when we started that people really want to know who you are and what you did, so experience is essential. "

He adds: "The position is extremely important in terms of pool of talent and customers, especially with London – even if things have changed slightly in the last two years, there is a significant pool of talents in Soho / Fitzrovia and it is, of course, the traditional film location for customers and is still where he likes to be, allowing them to go around the various companies. "

Despite having some clear advantages, there is always an obstacle that any novice study can cancel. Cohen explains that convincing potential customers who could handle large-scale jobs was one of the biggest initial challenges.

"Keeping the entire order backlog at the same time as keeping an eye on the work we are doing is still a challenge today," he adds.

A Victorian road

Working from a fixed location could become a thing of the past

For Redman and Haggar, the position is less concerning in the contemporary VFX sector. "These days, distance work is common and many people work from all over the world." If you're based in the UK, Soho still has its benefits, but for how long I'm not sure, "says Haggar.

According to Redman: "You can stay in a log cabin in the woods somewhere, as long as you have an Internet connection and you're part of the community, it does not matter."

The means to start your study are now more easily accessible than ever, but that does not mean it's easier. "It's easier to set up, but harder to succeed," says Redman. "As it becomes more widespread, you will have 300 people trying to do the same thing that only ten people did ten years ago."

With the insight of our expert contributors, in addition to sufficient guidance and creativity, you may have what it takes to create your VFX studio, so why not go and find out?

This article was originally published in issue 237 of 3D world, the best-selling magazine in the world for CG artists. Subscribe to 3D World here.

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