Felix Balbas • VFX producer and supervisor
"I can't wait to see Humphrey Bogart's new film!"
- We met up with Italian-Spanish visual effects producer and supervisor Felix Balbas at the 7th MICI (International Independent Film Meeting), where he held an "Indie VFX" workshop
Born in Milan, before moving to Germany, San Francisco, New Zealand, London and finally Barcelona, Felix Balbas has worked on visual effects for some mega-productions such as Harry Potter, Avatar [+see also:
film profile], X-Men, The Lord of the Rings. These days he runs his own company, Minimum VFX, in the Catalonian capital. We met up with him in Rome on the occasion of the 7th MICI – International Independent Film Meeting – (15 to 16 March 2018), where he held a workshop on visual effects for independent cinema.
Cineuropa: Working with visual effects is a very fun job, but it requires an enormous amount of preparation and organisation upstream. What is the first piece of advice you would give to a producer when approaching VFX?
Felix Balbas: You have to have very clear ideas before you start spending money, as well as two or three very experienced people to give you the right advice. Planning well is also essential. It's very easy to throw money away and achieve a low quality of production, only to realise your mistake halfway through the process.
You have a lot of experience working with big productions, but also with smaller companies. Is it possible to achieve quality in the VFX field with a limited budget?
The primary objective is not to lose too much quality, obviously coming to some sort of compromise depending on the budget, especially if we’re talking about independent projects, or the Mediterranean market in general, which doesn’t have the same sort of funds available as they do in Hollywood. That’s why it's useful to make the most of the experience of people who know what needs to be done to get the best quality, but also know how other types of production work.
When planning the visual effects for a film, what might an independent producer be able to save money on, and what should they absolutely not skimp on?
You shouldn’t save money in the pre-production phase. On the other hand, you can optimise a lot by dividing the project into specialties rather than sequences: a horizontal rather than vertical production. This leads to savings in infrastructure: aim for specialties, and since the world is full of digital wanderers, there are people who have a wealth of experience who perhaps work from home or have a small studio with infrastructure related to their particular speciality and that's it, with no additional costs.
It’s getting easier to bring together different professionals, including people from different countries, thanks to the cloud, among other things.
Sure. There are cloud-based management, rendering and licensing tools available. Obviously there's the issue of making sure your data is protected. When your ideas are travelling from one company to another there’s the risk that someone might intercept or copy it. As long as you’re careful, there are solutions available to avoid those risks.
What level would you say we’re at in Europe in terms of visual effects?
They’re very good at it in France, as well as in Germany and Scandinavia – I have seen some beautiful things in Iceland. Younger professionals have years of experience with the major players in Los Angeles, New Zealand and London, then they return home and set up their own companies. Apart from some exceptional cases like Star Wars or The Planet of the Apes, that require a huge number of people and a large amount of infrastructure, it’s easy to reach a good level. There’s also the fact that projects are increasingly divided between several production and post-production houses. In terms of tax benefits, it’s convenient to work in Ireland and Belgium, Germany has good facilities, and so does Italy these days. The most striking case at the moment is that of the Canary Islands: if you consider the local cost of living and the 40% tax rebate, there's no comparison.
You have worked in many different countries. How important is transnational training in this area?
It's all about experience. The more you have the better it is. Doing a two or three-month stint here and there isn’t as useful, because you don't really have enough time to understand how a company works, you only transfer your own know-how to the company and adapt to the environment a bit. It takes one or two years to fully understand how a company works, do that two or three times in different companies, and that’ll give you a good understanding of the diversity of points of view and ways of doing things.
In terms of employment, are the animation and VFX sectors thriving industries?
The whole digital content environment is expanding considerably. Virtual reality, augmented reality, TV series, Netflix, video games - only the video game budget is able to match that of Hollywood films. There is so much demand. If you consider the fact that a game like Candy Crush has a company of 500 employees behind it, including modellers, animators, riggers, designers...
What do you think about the future of cinema? Will you really make films with virtual actors?
Of course, it's just a matter of time. There will definitely be a new film by Humphrey Bogart starring Marilyn Monroe, I'm sure of it. It just takes someone who wants to do it, the technology is there and it's improving all the time. It’s already been done, in the form of a cameo (see Star Wars). I can't wait to see Humphrey Bogart's new film!
(Translated from Italian)
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