Montreal has a new vfx studio, Lumiere VFX, and Aaron Dem discusses its roadmap.
Lumiere VFX Inc. recently launched in Montreal with the opportunity to take advantage of a thriving talent pool, tax incentives and a strategy centered on ownership with various content providers. Bill Desowitz speaks with Aaron Dem, the vfx vet and Lumiere president of production, about the genesis of the company, its initial projects and business plan.
Bill Desowitz: Tell me about how Lumiere VFX got started.
Aaron Dem: I was approached by Justin Ackerman, who is partnered with four other European media investors and who, together, have diversified media investments in Europe, Asia, and the U.S. He wanted me to start a new company with him in Montreal, which has an amazing pool of talented artists. Also, to set the record straight, the Lumiere partners were in no way connected with Meteor Studios [which recently went out of business in Montreal] either in the past or now. We are two totally different companies. There has been some confusion in the marketplace, you can say, because we were able to strike a deal with Nordelec to lease the old Meteor facilities which, it just so happened, met our requirements for a quick start out of the gate earlier this year.
Our investment team’s upcoming projects have a significant amount of visual effects and Canada is a great place to bring their work because of the co-producing partnerships it has with the U.K., Australia and China ,not to mention the tax credits. I had previous experience working in Montreal [at Meteor on Journey to the Center of the Earth, for example] and had a core group of artists and production personnel that I could bring to the company to start it. With this opportunity, I was being given the chance to influence how the facility was run. This is something I had been wanting for several years! And once I had that, I had the impetus to come up here, bringing back some of the core people I had worked with in the past because obviously you want to work with people that you trust. We started the company with a show in hand, Lost City Raiders (airing in November on the SCI FI Channel). We opened our doors in early March and had a trailer deadline three weeks later. We have been busy everyday since. It’s been very successful so far!
BD: Let's talk about some of your other projects.
AD: We just completed 60 shots for Lost City Raiders, primarily CG hero establishing shots depicting the earth 70 years in the future after global warming and the rise of the tides. Bret St. Clair supervised the project. He is our vfx supervisor and has been with us from the inception and has worked with me for the last 10 years while I was at Centropolis FX and at Meteor. He just finished supervising Journey for me while at Meteor. He is now supervising two of our other projects: Baby Mammoth for National Geographic, with about 40 CG Mammoth shots, and Crusoe [the new NBC series premiering Oct. 17]. We are about three-quarters through the pilot, which is about 120 shots which needs to be completed in a seven week post schedule! We're doing CG shots of the Crusoe tree house and a great sequence where we are creating a CG tropical gorge where the actors have to get into a hamster wheel contraption hanging 150-feet in the air to get across a dangerous river. The actors were shot on greenscreen and we were tasked with creating this photo real environment! It looks great! In upcoming episodes we have more CG environments to build and other miscellaneous CG shots to enhance the weekly story line. We'll be doing effects for the following episodes as well. This project is with one of our partners, Justin Bodle, who owns Power Corp., one of the biggest TV producers in the U.K. and is one of the show's producers.
BD: Which brings us to your business plan for Lumiere.
AD: The partners started Lumiere in Montreal in order to link into Montreal's creative community and connect it with the groups international media business, which includes the T8 TPF Asia Fund, Omega Ent. worldwide film licensing and the partners preferential studio relationships. The idea is that the majority of work that we are going to do is for our partners, which are content providers. Again, one example of this is Justin Bodel. He has done several co-production projects with Montreal in the past. His projects will be a major part of our television effects business. We also have some films that will start going into production in the fall or Q4. Justin Ackerman is about to close his Tiger8 TPF film fund in Asia and some of our sister companies will be producing films and TV shows. Those will come through Lumiere, so they can take advantage of the Montreal talent base, and do it as financially responsibly using the tax credits that are available in Quebec. And at the same time, I have a lot of relationships from my years in the business and want to bring my past clients to facilities that I'm getting the chance to build. We hope to get up to 100 employees within the next 12 months. Currently we have 35 employees and I have the infrastructure to go up to 150. But I don't think I want to get that big that quickly. I think it all depends on the shows that we're asked to do. In addition, we're looking at some strategic relationships, which would happen next year to expand our bandwidth. Lastly, we're closing some production funds to take to market to co-finance films up to 50% of the budget. The financing will be against foreign rights and the individual effects work would flow through Lumiere. We would take on the parts that we are capable of completing at a high quality and manage the rest.
BD: Are there any other partners?
AD: Another primary partner is Markus Barmettler, who is a producer and the principal of the production company, Omega Ent. And through Omega, he's putting financing into producing films. We hope that Mandrake [an update of the classic Hearts comic book] will be the first feature to go into production at the beginning of the year.
BD: What areas of specialization do you want to get into: environments working up to character animation?
AD: Yeah, I would say that's correct -- and we have started our character pipeline currently on Mammoth. In addition, some of the features we have coming up have more difficult character work involved in them. These upcoming projects will force us to upgrade our fur and animation pipelines. Most importantly, I want Lumeire to produce high quality and creative visual effects for our clients. I also want our clients to enjoy working with us and want to keep coming back!
BD: What about your pipeline?
AD: We've started to design a new pipeline, which will enable our artists to spend more time being creative. We are investing resources and collaborating with other vendors to create a cutting edge asset tracker and pipeline. In addition, we are also implementing a comprehensive production tracker which will enable our staff to be updated by the minute on the status of shots and will enable our clients to log in remotely so as to keep all production data centralized. Lastly, we will most likely start to incorporate the 3Delight renderer, which is a robust RenderMan compliant render software at an economical price. Overall, it's a new vibe for a new company. In addition to the new pipeline that we're starting to build, we're going to be implementing policies to make sure that Lumiere is an enjoyable place to work. Some things that we are already doing are providing home cooked meals several times a week and planning a lounge for the artists to socialize with each other. The idea is to create a culture of creativity and that happens by taking care of the employees and making sure they enjoy coming to work everyday. In turn, that produces the best quality and a successful company!
Bill Desowitz in editor of VFXWorld.