By Randi Altman
Issue: August 1, 2003


With competition in commercial work fiercer than ever these days, visual effects studios have been accepting new aspects of the crucial bidding process. Specifically, extensive tests, which weren't even requested by ad agencies just a few years ago, are now virtually expected. And providing such tests can be costly and draining while offering no guarantee of getting the job.

Manhattan-based Ron Soodalter works with effects and animation studios worldwide - Moving Picture Company, MacGuff, Miopia, Perception to name a few. He also works with ad agencies. Some would describe him as a rep; he describes himself as a producer, liaison and account person, and he is right in the thick of bids for new work. "I expedite the communication between the agency, the production company and my effects house," says Soodalter. "I'm the guy who makes sure any client communication is understood and not misinterpreted. I make sure there is no opportunity for the job to go in one direction and the client to go in another." Soodalter's long career has seen many changes, including the current test mania.

"We love being taken to the point where we actually can do a test, and in this market, I don't know a company that will not do tests, generally free tests." Soodalter accepts agencies' craving for more tests, saying, "It makes the agency's job easier and it gives us a forum for presenting concept." But creating viable test effects can be a double-edged sword. "The problem is on a complex job you're practically doing the job in order to present the test. And that's a killer."

It's a killer because it often means eating the cost of the test. "Unless you get the job," Soodalter adds, "in which case you can take the test and apply your models, your design, your time - you amortize the costs."

Tests may also handcuff an effects studio's sense of creative freedom because agency creatives, and especially their clients, may still take their test effects at face value only. "If you say, ‘This is a rough test from which we can go here or there,' they initially say they understand, but after they get it, they say, ‘This is very rough,'" Soodalter points out. "Also, by doing a test, we lock ourselves in the client's mind to a very specific approach. Whereas in fact we are often saying, ‘We have variations on a theme, and we can take it in a totally different direction.'"

And with all the tests, it's still rare, he adds, when "the look" of a test gets approval without numerous changes. For more on the bidding process, turn to page 26.