Geoffrey Kater, S4 Studios LLC
Issue: December 1, 2006


STRENGTHS:  Because powerful technologies for animation, VFX and compositing are now so accessible, a director can control the visual effects production process right at the keyboard level, rather than having to delegate a variety of tasks, making he or she a much bigger part of the process. With so many directors coming to the table with a design background, the power to model, animate and light key scenes is a luxury they can now afford. 

WEAKNESSES: The industry, I feel, is suffering from a lack of understanding about how complex and time consuming VFX are.  Computer animation and VFX are very strict disciplines, and a lot of fine talent goes into what we see onscreen. I was recently talking with someone about The Incredibles.  I mentioned that a lot of people don't understand how much work went into that film, to which this person said, "That's because you guys make it look so easy." To me, that's indicative of a lack of understanding that pervades the animation and visual FX industries. 

Another issue is that there is a lack of multi-disciplined animation talent. Traditionally, many animation people pigeonhole themselves into thinking they should do one thing really well, but the market has changed. You need to be able to do several things really well. There is a fundamental under use of the design process, which is a major weakness in today's pool of emerging talent. 

OPPORTUNITIES: "Podcasting" and "Mobile Content" are great buzz words, but regardless of technologies or platforms, the opportunities will always exist where you make them. Using the analogy of a restaurant, smaller companies like S4 can't offer up a full banquet, but are more like an exclusive yet affordable eatery that caters to a small yet loyal clientele that enjoys the personal touch.  

THREATS: The biggest threat of all comes not only from deficiencies in quality visual effects or even outsourcing and cheaper production, but from laziness in storytelling and character development. In the next five years, we will see technological breakthroughs that will render even the most astonishing tent-pole releases of 2006, allowing even more quality designers to jump on the bandwagon.  Unfortunately, these great artisans will be pushed to mediocrity through tightening budgets, lack of creative leadership and stories that don't inspire, but take from the creative juices that drive successful animated/VFX films. What will truly drive the visual effects industry are compelling stories and characters that intrigue we, the audience. 

OUTLOOK 2007: VFX will permeate into other areas of the mainstream media, like mobile phones, podcasts, video games, etc., in addition to motion pictures and television.