Lessons Learned by the Little VFX Engine That Could

Engine Room Hollywood has been delivering visual effects for film, networks and streamers for over two decades. Helmed by veteran VFX supervisors, Dan Schmit and Michael Caplan, Independent, bespoke and trusted by clients in both entertainment and advertising, Engine Room has successfully navigated technology shifts and industry-wide disruptions in an exceedingly competitive and tough segment of the industry.  

Since its inception, Engine Room has collaborated on hundreds of movies and episodic series having delivered over 50,000 unique VFX shots. Recent Engine Room projects include Intrepid’s Life of Chuck, Netflix’s You People and Mother of the Bride, Apple’s Bad Monkey, Neon’s Cuckoo, ABC’s The Rookie, and Showtime’s Ghost of Beirut.   

Beyond top tier creative and technical abilities, the secrets to survival for a successful VFX studio like Engine Room are multi-layered. When looking back on a project regarding the VFX, two things will most likely be remembered: First and foremost is the quality of the work, but the experience of what it took to get there is also a major takeaway.  

"In an incredibly competitive creative industry, the work is of course paramount but our longevity and success is also very much due to our dedication to customer service and a good client experience.” says Co-Founder Michael Caplan. “There are lots of companies doing great work but we also strive to reduce the pain points.”  

Dan Schmit adds, “It’s all about collaboration. Visual effects is a process of revision, you can’t just buy finished VFX shots.  Filmmakers must embrace the process and approach their VFX with a collaborative spirit.  The work itself may still be technically and creatively challenging, but the shots will ultimately be much better and the process can be really satisfying, inspiring everyone to do their best work.  Plus, clients have to want to come back.” 

Staying nimble and lean has also been a key to the company’s survival, to maximize the on-screen production value for their filmmaker partners. Engine Room were early adopters in embracing a smaller in-house creative and management staff, while working with remote artists who have the required skills, but that the company does not have to carry until the next project comes in.  That said, Engine Room does the majority of their work with artists in California, and most reside in LA.   

As visual effects production requires a unique mix of artistic and technical skills, when it comes to the work itself picking the right artists is perhaps the most essential element for any VFX supervisor. The right artist may get a shot done in a few days, while other artists can toil away on a task for weeks and never get there.  This is the most critical lesson in both delivering great VFX shots, and also staying in business.  As a company started and run by VFX Supervisors, Engine Room has recruited a trusted, talented and highly efficient production team for their clients to tap into.   

“Think of a VFX studio like a rock band, and a VFX shot like a song”, says Schmit. “Musicians playing together for the first time might sound pretty good, but it’s rare for them to make an instant hit.  But, if the band has been touring for 20+ years, they will instinctively make beautiful music right out of the gate, and everyone can have fun doing it.  It’s the 10,000 hours principle in action.” 

As the entertainment industry moves on from the latest series of disruptions, it is companies like Engine Room who will survive and thrive.  They wouldn’t be around if their efficiencies didn’t  allow the LA-based company to actively compete with tax-incentivized locations.  Filmmakers wanting to ensure that their vision makes it to the screen will be well served to partner with those who have a solid track record, to both avoid the pitfalls common in VFX production, while keeping the focus on the integration of work, which ultimately is what it’s all about.  

Find out more at: https://www.engineroomhollywood.com/

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