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The Digital Eye: Zoic BC and the Visual Evolution

Loni Peristere, creative director/co-founder Zoic Studios, presents a dialog on the continued progress of the changing world of entertainment manufacturing, in this months Digital Eye.

Image courtesy of Deron Yamada. © 2004 DYA367.

Zoic Studios opened a second office in the Sun Tower at 100 West Pender Street, Vancouver, Canada, in November of 2005. We announced the official opening of Zoic BC in August of 2006 after completing one feature film and two major television series. Today, we operate with 20 full-time artists and a half a dozen production and support staff. Why did we open in Vancouver? What are we doing there? And is the increasing use of visual effects in television affecting the way we do business?

It wasnt long after we founded Zoic Studios that we knew we would be reaching out internationally to find the right balance of talent and production for our growing desire to build a well-rounded company. Working in exotic locations has always been part of our business; it is one of many tools for us and the storytellers we work with, to take the viewer away from what they see every day and transport them visually to somewhere they have never been.

This will never change. In the recent past however, other reasons for exotic travel began to surface beyond the need for beautiful mountains and frozen lakes. London, Australia and Vancouver offered direct tax incentives to production and post-production for completing work within their cities using resident talent.

The tax incentives created entertainment gold rushes in these cities and many others, allowing financially crippled productions to achieve far more for far less. The only catch to this windfall was the actual act of producing films and television projects in newly competitive marketplaces. Producers were given the challenge of finding and crewing their projects with capable local craftsman. This was a challenge at first, as many of these craftsmen were inexperienced and unfamiliar with traditional production methods. Nevertheless, experienced producers found the cash savings were far more valuable than the time lost to training and development. Time and work has built up the skilled labor in these regions and as a result production now benefits ultimately with both quality production and cost reduction.

Visual effects incentives followed closely behind. Vancouver. in particular, offered the Dave credit, which, coupled with other incentives, gave production up to a 42% rebate on visual effects production.

As a result of these incentives, the film, television and game industries work far more freely all over the world in order to maximize the value in their productions. Budgets are drawn up based on the best show for the best price.

Cost reductions, without the sacrifice of talent or quality of work, is one of the reasons Zoic opened in Vancouver. We needed to provide our creative partners with the best show for the best price. Vancouver gave us this opportunity.

In addition to cost reductions, we also found comfort and greater opportunity in Tom Friedmans book, The World is Flat, in which he explains how the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolically brought down the walls that had once divided international industry. Once the wall came down, Friedman suggests philosophically the world believed in global business. After the fall, the Internet and global realtime communication paved the road for seamless international workflow. In our industry this meant that realtime visual, verbal and written communication between international cities could allow creative work to happen as it never could before. We can share a vision over high bandwidth fiber lines as if we were working in the same room. For example, a writer and a studio executive in Los Angeles working on the new Blade TV series can hold a video conference with the director, line producer and visual effects supervisor about storyboards both parties are viewing on their desktops. The writer can use his mouse to suggest changes, which the director can see on his computer. In post, this same group can be simultaneously watching dailies or an edit and make comments. The visual effects supervisor can even change a shot in Vancouver with an artist while the writer/director waits.

Loni Peristere, co-founder/ceo/creative director of Zoic Studios.

Another great benefit is a broader ability for the visual effects producer to schedule their shows. Having resources in both cities, the producer can assign tasks in both places and assign the finishing in one location or the other based on artist availability. The producer also has the ability to use the incentives as well. Zoic does this regularly with all of its shows.

Sharing dailies among artists also has its benefits, as artists in Vancouver can see what Los Angeles is doing and vice versa.

From a technical side, each location has the ability to use each others network and render farm. Each city backs the other up creating redundant files and an ultimate disaster plan. This also allows an artist working on a shot in Los Angeles to pick up work on that shot in Vancouver the next day.

The small cost for this connection is infinitely valuable when setting the foundation for non-contiguous production. We not only gain the ability to work across borders, we gain the ability to work wherever we want. This is how we work everyday at Zoic in these two cities. This liberty in open production allows us to choose the right talent for the right job and to maximize our output creatively. The best painters paint, the best lighters light.

We founded Zoic Studios with a belief in the shared importance of creativity, business, technology and fraternity. We aspire to be the best by learning from the best business practices not only in our industry but also in others. Zoic saw a brighter future in international production, an evolution in digital production through the implementation of the practices mentioned above. From Vancouver we hope to gain a first hand understanding of a unified international workflow, which we can implement anywhere with the right talent and passion for work.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, we opened in Vancouver because of the people we met while working there. Across the board we found intelligent, professional and passionate individuals who wanted to do great creative work. Two of our senior L.A. supervisors, Patti Gannon and Randy Goux, became so enamored with the people and the city, that they moved there and opened the office. They are now full-time residents of Vancouver and senior creative directors at Zoic BC. Joining them as the senior creative director for television is Bob Habros, one of the most talented, honest and hard working supervisors weve ever worked with. We met Bob while working in L.A., and subsequently hired him to supervise projects in Vancouver for us. It began with Global Frequency, Killer Instinct, Eureka, Blade and now Traveler. The artists who have supported us and become a part of our extended family are familiar. They have the same passion and energy as our family in L.A. We look forward to watching them grow as we did over the last four years out of the love of the work and hope they will inspire and mentor others to follow in their footsteps. In a creative industry, the artists are what really make us great and Vancouver has so many wonderfully creative artists with whom we are happy to be working with.

In closing, it is important to note that this is a beginning. Motion picture, television and game production are increasing their need for visual effects, animation and digital content every day. We will need to find better techniques and many more passionate people to continue to do the work better than we did it before, and we have to be open to find them and work with them at anytime from anywhere, if that is what it takes.

Loni Peristere, ceo/creative director Zoic Studios, founded Zoic in 2002 with partners Chris Jones, Tim McBride, Andrew Orloff and Steve Schofield. He is an acting creative director for feature, episodic and commercial visual effects projects. Peristere won the Emmy in 2003 for special visual effects in a television series for 20th Century Foxs Firefly. He is a multiple nominee, with a second nomination for 20th Century Foxs Buffy the Vampire Slayer.