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Stargate grew cutting edge VFX industry

Thursday - May 25, 2006 | by Livi Dolgin

While the media focuses on the record breaking milestone episode "200" for Stargate SG-1, the "special" in "special effects" is the result. Sending Jack O'Neill and his team to the farthest reaches of the galaxy are the visual effects (VFX) firms of Vancouver, British Columbia. They are a true success story. SG-1 and its spin-off series Stargate Atlantis have required a mega-support infrastructure. To support the series, everything grew from studio size to a slew of first class, internationally known, and state of the art VFX production houses.

"Stargate has been a great economic boost to B.C.'s economy," B.C. film commissioner Susan Croome told Playback Magazine. "They've provided long-term employment and given opportunities to local actors, writers, directors and crews to grow in their craft. They've played a major role in contributing to the industry infrastructure, and by showcasing B.C. worldwide. They're building our tourism industry, too. All round, this is a win-win-win for everyone."

The longevity of the Stargate series made The Bridge Studios (where the shows are filmed) invest in expansion. Bridge now rents 75 percent of its total soundstage space to the Stargate franchise. Sets for both series have necessitated large construction projects on the lot.

"A TV series can run one year, or max four," Ron Hrynuik, General Manager of Bridge, told Playback. "A feature film is here for six months. To have a series here for 10 years -- it doesn't get better than that."

More importantly, that longevity nurtured a foundation for the burgeoning Vancouver post production and FX industry. Businesses such as Rainmaker Digital Effects and other post production houses provide feature film quality, computer generated effects for each episode.

SG-1 associate producer for post Jennifer Johnson describes Rainmaker as "vital to both Stargate series." Kerry McDowall, SG-1's post-production coordinator, agrees. "They are so committed, it's like they're part of our team."

"More importantly, Stargate gave the Vancouver VFX talent the opportunity to hone their skills, which put us on the radar of the international scene," Mark Bénard of Lost Boys Studios told the magazine.

"Today, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis are mainstays of our TV operations, which have grown tremendously since they became our client," said Chris Mossman, Image Engine president. His favorite memories are of the creatures.

"We're known for our creature FX, and with Atlantis, the creatures have become a little more extreme and bizarre," he says. Mossman cites "Inferno" from Atlantis's second season as his favorite episode.

"On the planet of Taranis, the entire Stargate complex is built inside the caldera of a super-volcano. Creating the visuals was extremely challenging, and very satisfying,"

"Stargate is one of the biggest employers in the Vancouver market," said Andrew Karr, in-house digital director for Atmosphere Visual Effects. Atmosphere works on both franchise shows. "It's certainly been good for our business. Today, I would estimate that a good 30 percent to 40 percent of our business comes from both Stargate series."

As Stargate SG-1 rolls on to its tenth season, even the head of programming at its U.S. broadcaster describes the staying power as "an amazing accomplishment." Mark Stern, executive V.P. at SCI FI Channel, commented to Playback that "the really exciting thing is that the show feels as interesting and funny and energetic as it did in the first season." Stern also points out that the show has as many women viewers as men.

"It was a real surprise to us," says Stern. And the synergy between the two series leaves room for a new third series and a movie, according to Brad Wright executive producer of Stargate.

"Originally, Atlantis was supposed to replace SG-1, but they have actually turned out to be amazing partners and have lifted each other up," Stern said. "There is a lot of crossover between the shows. About 60 percent of the Atlantis audience is SG-1 viewers."

Battlestar Galactica hopes to achieve that kind of synergy with its new spin-off, Caprica, now in the early development stage. With so much good news, the FX work will continue to flow.

Visit Playback Magazine for the full story!



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