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Issue: December 1, 2006

VFX SWOT

By: Marjolaine Tremblay, CEO/animation director, Element FX
STRENGTHS: The people in our industry really make the difference. Everybody is just so willing and so talented and really works hard — that's something you don't find everywhere. There are also lots of great projects out there — independent films, large studio projects, commercials or TV. More and more projects use VFX, from simple paint jobs to all 3D sequences, especially in the realm of invisible effects, like the stadium we did in the movie Invincible.

WEAKNESSES: Nobody seems to have the budgets for what they want. Even though technology has been more accessible and less pricey, you still have to get all the upgrades, you still have to have the latest workstations, so our industry is fairly expensive. Everyone has a high level of education too. It's not a minimum wage industry that's for sure — talent and experience comes at a price.

OPPORTUNITIES: You have to make your own. You really have to work hard at it and get your work out there because there's a lot of competition, be it from tax incentives, pricing or talent. Various US-based companies are opening shops in Canada and the UK to offer their services and stay strong in the industry while taking advantage of those governments' tax credits. Others are creating alliances with smaller facilities or outsource some of their work to keep costs down.

THREATS: We recently gave a client a package deal with our different facilities, located in both the US and Canada. We have to do that to stay competitive. We have to adapt because there are threats. I've been to China and visited what they have going there. I saw some of the facilities, their work, their crews. They are developing their skill sets, their talent and their experience with massive manpower in some instances. The question should probably be, ?"Is this a threat for all US-based business or a threat to our industry?" To compete you have to have the artistry, be inventive in both the business and the creative side, and especially be able to adapt to the constant changes of our industry.

OUTLOOK 2007: The trends we've seen over the last few years — more smaller companies getting established, larger projects being spread over more facilities, deadlines getting shorter, budgets getting squeezed. I expect we will continue to see more of these trends, especially if the industry at large continues to embrace and further imagine all the ways visual effects can be used.

A boutique visual effects shop, Element FX is located in Marin County with a sister company in Toronto. It ramps up with freelancers when needed. The shop specializes in 3D environments, matte painting, compositing and crowd animation. Tremblay chairs the Bay Area VES chapter. Recent work includes Invincible (Disney, 2006), The Darwin Award (MGM, 2006) and Showtime's current Sleeper Cell series.