Building a Dynasty
Nancy Jundi
Issue: April 1, 2011

Building a Dynasty

SHERMAN OAKS, CA — In June of 2010, Los Angeles and China came together to form a dynasty of sorts. Dynasty Visual Effects and Animation, LLC is the result of a researched collaboration of artists and producers obsessed with efficiency, quality and affordability. 

Whether you’re watching a big budget feature, playing a videogame, ignoring a commercial or looking at a digital billboard, a great deal of what we’re viewing these days has it’s fair share of visual effects. From feature films to advertising, there is both a want and a need for VFX and animation. Unfortunately, while demand has certainly grown, not all budgets have. Dynasty was created to deal with that issue.

The company was originally conceived by Mark Hundahl, an innovator, film producer, publisher and all-around entrepreneur who began researching business opportunities in China in 2008. He contacted his friend Bruce Silverman, a veteran of the advertising world, who was attracted to the idea of quality VFX that still allowed a budget to breath. The third member to join what turned out to be the Dynasty partnership was Leo Chen, who holds a degree in civil engineering from China’s Tongji University and emigrated to the US in 1987 to earn an MBA in international trade at Columbia University.

“Before I knew it we were all headed off to China to explore VFX and animation companies, and the quality of work we could expect to produce there,” notes Silverman. “We needed to know if we could be a good fit working with one another in a cultural and efficiency sense. We made many trips over the course of a year-and-a-half, and in that time we came up with the business model for Dynasty, which we felt was unique.” Silverman is now CEO of the company and Hundahl and Chen remain involved as consultants.

Outsourcing to India, Korea and the Philippines has become common in recent years, which allows for cost efficiency. However, many producers have found that time and money actually aren’t saved at times because communication and work styles cause delays and added expenses, particularly when shots have to be redone. 

“China was largely uncharted territory,” says Silverman. “It’s a gigantic country with a huge domestic film and television market. We knew there had to be quality resources there. And there was. We understood the challenges — and we think we solved them in a very innovative way. We’re in a business that revolves around subtlety and nuance. We knew we’d need to be able to effectively communicate our client’s specs and deliver the results they expected. That’s not easy, even with a perfect translation. We needed to be able to speak with them both in English and Chinese. That’s why we have American, Canadian and Australian artists and supervisors over there in addition to having Leo Chen and our producers here in L.A., which helps make the whole process work effectively and efficiently.” Silverman adds, “Our principal VFX studio in Beijing now has about 50 people in it and our second facility houses 25 to 30 additional artists and technicians. Both of those operations are led by people who have worked in the visual effects industry in Hollywood, Australia, Vancouver and/or San Francisco.” 

Another key member of the Dynasty team dedicated to “making the unaffordable affordable” is executive producer/senior director of business development Rob Morgenroth, who recently joined the company after a one-year stint as director of development for the Visual Effects Society. Morgenroth had developed a 24-hour work cycle in 2004 for his former company, E=MC2, which had production resources in Taipei. 

“Asia has always presented the opportunity for a 24-hour work cycle, but the language and cultural barrier — especially in India and Korea — was definitely an obstacle. A lot of people jump into outsourcing, looking for cost efficiency without effectively addressing the language, cultural and work style barriers. If you say you want a tree created and you get an oak tree when you were expecting a palm tree that creates issues. Dynasty simply doesn’t have those sorts of problems.”

While we’re sleeping here in Los Angeles, Dynasty’s team half-a-world away is completing shots. While some may have images of an underground work environment, like Banksy portrayed for the Simpsons as a statement on outsourcing, Silverman notes, “Our Beijing studio looks a lot like a typical boutique VFX shop in Santa Monica. It’s a very hip place. Exposed brick, lots of plants, the latest hardware and software and, of course, many talented artists and technicians.” 

There are even a bunch of really good restaurants just around the corner.  

“It’s a great work environment and the staff has a terrific work ethic,” says Silverman. “Our people in China have worked at Sony, ILM, Digital Domain and Rhythm & Hues.” 

“I’ve found that China has an incredible work ethic and treats their people better than what you hear coming from other outsourced areas,” adds Morgenroth. “Working conditions are exceptional, privacy and security are considered of the utmost importance and is at a level that is equal to or greater than what we’re used to here in Hollywood. All the negative things that can come from outsourcing just aren’t there. Bruce, Mark and Leo did a lot of research in building this company. It’s incredible.” 

Dynasty has gone above and beyond to ensure their clients’ peace of mind, exceptional results and ability to maximize their dollar. From legalities to licenses, every detail has been combed over. Dynasty clients only deal with the Sherman Oaks team, which then handles all communications with the supervisors in China. 

“Our China operation works perfectly in concert with our LA office and our clients,” says Silverman. “In addition to VFX work, we also produce cartoon animation. We’ve found that our US animation customers frequently want to go back into the layered files to tweak something.  So from a software standpoint everything has to be clean and kosher for that to happen.” 

Morgenroth adds, “The perception is that outsourced material is often produced with cracked software and it’s an accident waiting to happen. Our licenses are the most up to date versions, we own them and there are incredibly skilled artist working on them. These aren’t newcomers. I’ve sat and watched them work; they’d be stars anywhere.” 

Silverman and his team are excited to be working on a number of projects, including commercials, cartoon episodes for TV and the Web and feature films he’s sworn to secrecy on. Their most recent credit was the film Cat Run, which was produced by a Houston company, shot in Serbia with stars from Los Angeles, directed by John Stockwell from Austin, and edited in Studio City, with VFX produced in Beijing. 

“We’re living in a global environment” says Silverman, “and that’s how we’ve been able to make this work. Dynasty has taken on the responsibility of connecting the pieces for an affordable outcome. It’s our studio in China, we’re one entity. The way we see it is that our talent is one long corridor away — across the Pacific Ocean, but we’re one team. We do have people who work late and sleep with their laptops, but that’s what we signed on for. Because of that we have the opportunity to offer a very good product at very attractive price and we’re pretty proud of that.”