Coffee and TV’s co-founder Derek Moore recently got in touch to explain the thinking behind the setting up of his new boutique vfx-focused post house. "The big traditional post model isn’t working. Kit, rent and staff are expensive, and clients don’t have the budgets to pay for it all," he says. Here he details how his new type of post house, built around inexpensive kit, low overheads and partnerships, is the way forward.
While an employee of a very big post house, I spent a good deal of time thinking about how to strip out the overheads of a business to just leave the talent, without compromising the creativity for some time. Like all staff, you think you can do it better yourself.
Smoke on the Mac
Around the time I was thinking about how to create such a business, a press release came out the blue from Autodesk, where they announced a new version of Smoke for the Mac that had the best bits of Smoke and Flame, and all for £3k, which is £117k cheaper than a traditional suite.
At which point I phoned Truss [co-founder John Trussler] and said, ‘You know all that stuff we were talking about – being able to afford to do it on our own? Well, this is our ticket to being able to do that.’ We were both Smoke operators who had moved over to Flame and there aren’t many people in town that can do both.
At this point Phil [co-founder Phil Hurrell] also becomes available. He’s the best cg guy I’ve ever worked with, so you kind of go, right, if we can add cg to our Smoke/Flame offering we can do just about any type of job. Maybe we don’t need an office and we can all just work from home remotely and collaborate on the internet and try and build some sort of virtual company which might work around that with no overheads on cheap but good kit.
But then we started talking to Chris [co-founder Chris Chard] about how we were going to do this and was he interested. He’s the best producer I’ve ever worked with and he also saw the writing on the wall for the days of the big post houses and got quite excited about what we could do.
When we got a decent producer on board, that gave us a sense of scale which requires a presence in Soho and a meeting room and a presentation suite and that kind of thing. So, that’s how we kind of structured the size of the company.
Getting up and running
And then it was really a case of testing the Smoke and Flame stuff worked as it was supposed to do. It does, and, in fact, there were a lot of complaints from existing Flame users at the time about why Smoke on the Mac is two to three times faster than their £120k box. Knowing what we know, I wouldn’t touch a Flame at the current price; Smoke on the Mac is better, faster and cheaper.
We added a 12TB server on a Thunderbolt cable with an iMac connected to it, and that was pretty much it, we were ready to go.
And then it’s all about trying to phone everyone up and tell them what we’re doing and building things up slowly. It was exciting. I thought when we started this we could probably limp along on Smoke on the Mac for a few months – get in some money and do some jobs – we didn’t expect to be doing high-end difficult stuff; just the run of the mill Smoke jobs.
Now we’re in a position such that April 2014 to April 2015 should be nicely profitable. We’ve done our cap-ex, now it would be good to have 12 months of solid earnings so we have money in the bank. When the lease is up on our current office, we can then take a view on how big we can or should go and whether we need to raise some more money.
Although the internal structure of the company changes frequently, I don’t want the size we are to change very much. I want to know all of our clients myself to offer that personal service, otherwise we just become another big post house and there’s just no point in that because we know that doesn’t work well any more.
So we’re sort of limited by our physical footprint but that’s a good thing because it stops us from messing it up.
A virtual footprint
The next year will be about how we can build up an even bigger virtual footprint than we currently have, although we’re already as far reaching as Nepal, where we have a rotoscoping team working on a big job at the moment. The fact we can offer services through outsourcing to other companies allows us to offer the kind of scale the big guys have, but without the overheads.
We now plan to build on that sort of model and extend our teams of decent Flame and Smoke ops virtually – we know the best guys in town and they now have the kit themselves, they can work remotely from home, feed stuff in and come in as and when they need to.
We can then just build a kind of network of people we can call upon so our clients get specifically the best talent for their particular part of the job, rather than just an employee who happens to be free that day.
PICTURE: Final Fantasy XIV promo, vfx by Coffee and TV