How can a project like the Cross Channel Film Lab help the VFX industry?

In 2010, a small team of researchers carried out research into the UK VFX and Stereo 3D industry, as we explored whether our model for a Cross Channel Film Lab could help to meet industry needs.  To share some of our development process with you, here’s a short summary of some of the report’s findings about our Lab proposals.

Based on 71 interviews, industry brainstorming sessions and existing research material, the report identified the following needs within the VFX industry:

  • To reduce costs where possible;
  • To provide continuing professional development in response to new technologies, to improve project management expertise, and to illustrate the role of VFX within the wider production;
  • To provide opportunities to test and explore new technologies prior to purchase;
  • To support fast-moving companies to embed and build on the learning from individual projects;
  • To find and engage with new talent (graduates and up and coming writing, directing and producing talent – or in the case of production, excellent VFX or Stereo 3D talent);
  • To overcome perceptions of VFX and Stereo 3D as high cost options;
  • To improve the film/TV industry’s understanding of VFX and Stereo 3D (with particular reference to budgeting, scheduling, necessary processes and production efficiencies, the benefit of pre-visualisation and planning, and potential for innovation);
  • To increase Stereo 3D expertise across all sections of the industry, and improve access to this expertise.
  • To address the low proportion of women and minority ethnic groups in the VFX workforce, and the skills base outside London

The research illustrated the perceived value of ‘on the job’ training for all levels of staff. New opportunities identified for Stereo 3D included potential for new sources of funding for 3D TV, the development of new Stereo 3D tools and processes for adding Stereo 3D in post, and research and development of the visual and narrative grammar of new technologies, particularly Stereo 3D. The fast-changing nature of the medium was highlighted as a challenge for anyone choosing to work in this area.

Most of the needs above fall within the scope of the Cross Channel Film Lab model. Additional needs identified that don’t fall within the Lab model are a need to address graduate skills gaps (although we hope our online open sessions will go some way towards this), gatekeeper issues in terms of Stereo 3D distribution in the UK, and concern that bad Stereo 3D post transfers and the additional cost of attending 3D films is impacting on audience appetite.

The research identified the following potential benefits of the Cross Channel Film Lab:

  • Fostering collaboration between the UK and France (and Brittany and Cornwall), and nationally;
  • Driving inward investment and addressing shared economic challenges;
  • The opportunity to engage with, test and develop new technology and processes to increase production efficiency;
  • Filtering and providing access to talent (both creative production and technical expertise);
  • Company and individual networking opportunities and promotion materials;
  • Increasing the capacity and range of the UK film/TV industry and the quality, ambition and international competitiveness of UK films;
  • Overcoming financiers’ lack of understanding of VFX/Stereo 3D and thus increasing the likelihood of films going into production;
  • Providing practical training for VFX staff/freelancers, graduates, creative production teams, and sharing good practice with the wider industry in order to shift perceptions and improve communication between departments;
  • Providing raw material and cutting edge case studies for use in universities.

What are the challenges for a project like the Cross Channel Film Lab?

Over the past year, we’ve been working on addressing the key challenges identified by our research:

  • Balancing increased expectations of VFX with the potential limitations of working at a low budget;
  • Finding the ‘expert hands’ and ensuring they are available when needed – a wide talent pool will be required, as would the development of an environment where representatives of different companies can work effectively together (potentially speaking different languages);
  • Identifying and attracting the best feature film projects and teams
  • Accessing the necessary finance and physical resources – the former is a challenge in the current economic climate, and the latter can be costly and quickly go out of date (particularly in the world of Stereo 3D);
  • Delivering appropriate spaces in which the labs could be hosted, virtually and in reality;
  • Overcoming the difficulty of predicting what would be needed until the projects have been selected;
  • Building a strong reputation, quickly;
  • Resolving potential Intellectual Property/Copyright issues – finding a balance between the needs of production companies and distributors with those of VFX/Stereo 3D companies in need of showreel material, and the needs of the wider education programme
  • Providing appropriate support, supervision and mentoring for all those involved in the Labs

A bigger and still very current question thrown up by our research is how the UK can compete with lower cost facilities or tax incentives elsewhere. As the future is difficult to predict, perhaps the only possible answer at this stage is that the UK VFX industry is currently proving very successful, despite threats from elsewhere, due to its well established reputation and ability to access skilled crew. The Cross Channel Film Lab’s focus on exploring routes to deliver high quality VFX and Stereo 3D at a lower budget remains useful in an even more challenging economic context.

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