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November 2018

In the magazine
Only available in print
  • The Facilities 50
    Jon Creamer launches Televisual's 31st exclusive annual Facilities 50 survey featuring the top post production houses in the UK and 48 pages of analysis of the sector
  • The Commercials 30
    Jon Creamer introduces Televisual’s exclusive Commercial 30 survey, reporting on a year of highs and lows for commercials producers.
  • The Drama Genre Report
    With competition from streamers intensifying, UK broadcasters are exploring new drama strategies. Tim Dams reports
  • Primary Colours
    Five leading movie colourists tell Michael Burns the secrets of their craft, and explain the techniques they use to grade movies like The Danish Girl, Peterloo and Baby Driver
  • Up, up and away!
    Thanks to advances in camera technology, the possibilities of aerial filming are greater than ever before. Pippa Considine reports on some of the year’s standout aerial projects
  • OB: Which Way Now
    The OB industry is embracing major change as it adapts to the worlds of UHD, HDR and IP. Michael Burns reports
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Film 40, 2016 Back to Reports & survey Listing

If the UK film industry has never had it so good, thanks to the huge amount of Hollywood features work it now attracts, the same could be said of the UK’s vfx studios.

But rather than being indebted to Hollywood and new TV drama investors such as Amazon and Netflix, perhaps the industry should thank the establishment of the UK’s system of film and TV tax incentives.

This is the foundation upon which inward investment has been successfully established and maintained, providing a stable platform on which the vfx industry has been able to grow.

Specifically, since 2013 the proportion of a film’s budget that must be invested in the UK for it to qualify for tax breaks was reduced from 25% to 10%, a move aimed at attracting vfx work on productions partly shot elsewhere. Now the UK industry is able to compete head on with countries such as Canada, a popular country for vfx work because of the its generous tax rebate system.

“We are really beginning to see the effect of the tax incentives both internationally and domestically,” says Will Cohen, CEO of vfx outfit Milk which won an vfx Oscar for Ex-Machina. “Our industry is globally competitive and as a creative centre of excellence London has always been an attractive destination for filmmakers looking for partners to create vfx. But with this underlying government support and the sensible level of financial incentive the industry should be sustainable and continue to show healthy growth.”

The influence of the growing number of high end TV dramas which are shot and posted in the UK shouldn’t be underestimated either. In the past films gave rise to a feast-and-famine economy which has made the vfx business a precarious one. But long form TV drama helps smooth out the peaks and troughs.

Bigger is better
As the vfx industry matures, the last year has seen companies continue to consolidate, merging with other businesses to create competitive advantages.

Driving this trend has been a number of factors, including the tendency for film producers to ask for more vfx shots in less time.

Whereas once vfx might run to a couple of hundred shots per film, now a couple of thousand is a much more common workload. Handling these volumes requires a certain scale if a vfx company is going to be considered as a preferred supplier on a film company’s roster.

Vfx businesses have also become increasingly international as compressed timeframes for vfx work has given those companies with vfx artists working in different time zones a competitive edge – namely the ability to work on shots around the clock.
Notable mergers include Double Negative, which started life as a vfx boutique 1998 with around 30 staff, joining forces with Prime Focus World in June 2014 to create the world’s biggest vfx company, with around 4,500 employees. Last year Cinesite acquired Vancouver-based Image Engine, which has credits including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, expanding its footprint to 650 artists and technicians in Canada overnight. And last September Technicolor, owner of vfx company MPC, paid £190m for The Mill.

The mergers underline the reality that today’s most successful vfx players are international businesses which use high tech tools such as asset management platforms and real time remote workflow systems to maximise productivity and attract the biggest film contracts.

Union issues
The vfx boom has also focussed attention on terms and conditions in the vfx industry.

The reality is that it’s increasingly common for staff in large vfx companies to bear the brunt of the surge in work by being expected to work on short-term contracts for long hours with plenty of unpaid overtime.

The issue came to a head recently at MPC, where around 130 workers centred around its film compositing department asked for union recognition enabling them to negotiate collectively on terms and conditions including pay, hours and holidays. 

Union Bectu has written to MPC to request formal union recognition and reports that concern with onerous terms and conditions is commonplace across the vfx industry. That’s why Bectu reports a surge in union membership from vfx workers attracted by the idea of collective union representation. 

If the UK’s vfx workforce is overworked it’s also – at least in some areas – underskilled. Last September, Double Negative, Framestore and MPC helped launch a new government initiative with the Next Generation Skills Academy to plug what is increasingly recognised as a skills gap, following concern that vfx companies were finding it difficult to fill spec roles such as compositors, FX supervisors and animators with home grown talent.

Coming of age
The irony of the vfx industry in recent years has been that while vfx work has become increasingly central to the success of effects heavy films, from Guardians of the Galaxy 
to the Jungle Book, Harry Potter and Star Wars, vfx companies themselves have 
tended to remain very much junior creative partners.

Some companies, such as Cinesite, have attempted to assert more control over their work by setting up their own animation studios. In February, Cinesite launched Cinesite Animation, a dedicated feature animation studio at its Montréal Studios with the ambition of developing nine animated features scheduled to be in production by 2020.

This followed Cinesite’s deal with production company 3QU Media to create a slate of family-targeted animated films. The first production Charming is scheduled for release in 2016. If company’s such as Cinesite make a go of their production ventures, we could see more vfx companies dipping their toes into the world of production and intellectual property.

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