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VES Production Summit: Not Business as Usual

The initial VES Production Summit on Saturday at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, Marina del Rey, offered plenty of discussion about the changing nature of the industry.

The initial VES Production Summit on Saturday at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, Marina del Rey, offered plenty of discussion about the changing nature of the industry.

In a packed ballroom of around 500 attendees, Chris DeFaria, EVP, digital production, animation and visual effects, Warner Bros. Pictures, told the VFX community that while its ubiquitous work has become a commodity, it still requires innovation.

"Innovation in production management is what we're looking at," offered DeFaria. He then cited partnerships with Industrial Light & Magic and Ron Frankel's Proof previs company as examples of decentralizing production from studios to vendors and establishing long-term commitments at a fixed rate. This allows them to utilize a range of talents, including business production, get a head start in concept design and vfx and break up previs & postvis from the studios and share in the risk.

"The talent of a supervisor or business process is an intangible," DeFaria added. "Their bandwidth is attractive. Five-hundred shots generated in the last six weeks is a factor."

In other words, this prevailing notion of delaying creative decisions to the last moment has got to stop.

DeFaria also mentioned that production has become a currency game and that even though the exchange rate has become very high in Australia, necessitating a shift to Louisiana for GREEN LANTERN, the studio still plans on utilizing Australia's 40% tax incentive whenever possible (the animated HAPPY FEET 2 and GUARDIANS OF GA'HOOLE are being made there).

This brought out visible frustration on the part of CafeFX Owner Jeff Barnes, who's finding it difficult to survive when continually losing bids to companies in Canada and Australia. He's even looked at the possibility of opening up a satellite office overseas, but isn't sure where to go. "We've all been making too much money for a long time," Barnes said. "Salaries will have to drop."

Meanwhile, everyone acknowledged that the shifting digital paradigm is changing production workflows, so the earlier they prep, the better. "I see a very exciting future if we all stay in business," quipped Steven Poster, DP and president of the International Cinematographers Guild. "Let's change the paradigm right now: it's not a toy; it's not a sandbox -- it's a business. Cloud computing is the future -- we can get involved from anywhere in the world. Most DPs understand more about vfx than you would imagine. I stay involved in a picture until it gets to theaters."

However, in a departure from his colleagues in stressing a future where more is accomplished in prep, Marc Weigert (2012) suggested that new technology for re-lighting live actors in post, for instance, will allow directors to tinker more on the back-end. He also added that pitchvis will become more instrumental in allowing studios to greenlight movies.

Catherine Hardwicke, the lone director, complained that more than half of her VFX budget was taken away when she made TWILIGHT. In addition, without a production designer, vfx designer or costume designer at her disposal, she's having a difficult time getting THE GIRL WITH THE RED RIDING HOOD prepped and greenlit at Warner Bros. But, overall, she said about vfx: "Our goal is to enhance, improve and make it better. New tools allow that. But I only care about the characters and I [don't want anything] that takes away the heart and soul."