32TEN Studios Opens for Practical/Digital Effects
COW Library : TV & Movie Appreciation : Debra Kaufman : 32TEN Studios Opens for Practical/Digital Effects
The address 3210 Kerner Blvd in San Rafael has significance in the history of visual effects: it's the former site of ILM and, in more recent years, the now-defunct Kerner Optical. Rather than abandoning the building and the business that has animated it for so many years, a group of former ILM and Kerner Optical employees have banded together to launch a new company, the aptly named 32TEN Studios.
32TEN Studios is employee-owned and offers both a sound stage, for model-making and miniatures as well as for rent to outside projects, and a digital VFX studio, to enable practical shots to be finished internally.
"The studio will be all in one footprint: one building with one stage," says 32TEN Studios president Tim Partridge, who formerly oversaw the practical effects and 3D technology at Kerner. "We plan to use the incredible talents of practical and digital artists in the area to work on projects as we get them. Thanks to Lucasfilm and ILM, there will be a lot of talent to draw upon, from people who have worked at those companies."
The sound stage is a core offering. At approximately 6,000 square feet, it also features a 20-foot high, two wall, coved green screen. Adjacent to the soundstage is a comfortably equipped screening room with 138 seats.
32TEN soundstage. Click image to zoom.
Members of the 32TEN Studios have created practical FX on this same stage for movies such as The Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jedi, Back to the Future trilogy, Pirates of the Caribbean series, War of the Worlds, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Transformers and dozens more.
Adding a digital VX facility to 32TEN Studios is an important part of the plan. "It's our firm belief that if the practical artists and digital artists who are crafting these shots are in the same room talking to each other, you'll get a better result," says Partridge.
COO Greg Malone, who worked with ILM as a Compositing Supervisor, CG Supervisor and Compositor between 1989 and 2007 and most recently was a Stereographer and Lead Compositor with Robert Zemeckis' ImageMovers Digital, agrees.
"The stage and the CG facility work hand-in-hand," says Malone. "The idea is that we can do the practical side for a client and then back it up with digital visual effects." As Partridge points out, digital artists often have little experience with practical effects. "If we can let digital artists see how practical effects actually happen, they'll do better in their digital simulations," says Partridge. "They don't often see what real lights on a real stage look like, or what surface textures of real things are, and yet they're simulating those things all the time. It'll be beneficial for them to be part of the practical shoot as well."
Partridge also notes that not every production job will require the digital VFX offerings, but it's there if needed, and a supervisor will be able to work with both teams in the same place.
Head of Technology Scott Smith explains that his direction for the technology is to provide any CG ability for the practical side of the facility. "Obviously the show will dictate the technology and features needed," he says. "Our CG pipeline will offer compositing, rotoscoping, matchmoving (both 2D and 3D stereo), modeling, animation, concept art, and simulation (primarily particle effects such as smoke, water, clouds)."
According to Malone, the company's digital infrastructure includes Autodesk Maya, Nuke, Renderman, Silhouette, and other tools. "Then we have a proprietary pipeline that we've developed," he adds. "It's a complete Linux-based CG pipeline for a small studio. Many smaller shops have a hard time tracking shots. We have that infrastructure including data management and production management."
"It's an enterprise level CG pipeline and our cutting edge is that it's been miniaturized and made more efficient using the latest modern technology available to us," says Smith. "Our key strength is the team of people we have here and their depth of experience."
Left to Right: Anthony Shafer: Stereographer; Scott Smith: Technology; Geoff Heron: Practical FX Supervisor; Nick d'Abo: Model Supervisor; Vince De Quattro: VFX; Greg Maloney: COO, 32TEN Studios; Tim Partridge: President, 32TEN Studios; Marty Rosenberg: Director of Photography; Marty Brenneis: Technology; Sean House: Props; Greg Beaumonte: Camera Engineering
Partridge says that word about 32TEN Studios is spreading quickly in the northern California advertising and film/TV production communities. In addition to 32TEN's success, he has other aspirations, noting that the campus is large enough for expansion.
"I saw there were a number of small initiatives trying to restart something in this historic building," he says. "But each initiative was too small. What I've done is pull them all together under one roof. What I'm hoping is that this becomes more of a thriving community of service providers on this campus that ILM built before they moved out of San Francisco. There's history around every corner here, and it's incredibly inspiring."