Most of the time, when people think of VFX, they usually think big budget, tentpole Hollywood films — car crashes, explosions, shoot outs, and big gruesome monsters. But the truth is, almost every film requires some VFX work, from TV inserts to cleaning up unwanted logos on a busy urban street, to adding a little more blood on a gunshot wound to make it more realistic, and it can be daunting to find someone to help a smaller budget film with the state of VFX in Los Angeles these days. Fortunately, I’ve started to work with a company called Locktix, who not only does VFX work for larger films, but also works with projects on lower budgets. Since VFX is somewhat of a mystery to the indie world, I asked Gresham Lochner, owner of Locktix, to give us a little insight about the work they are doing with indies and how a filmmaker can prepare in order to save costs in this area.
Tell us what kind of work you do at Locktix.
Locktix is a company created as a response to demand of vfx being more cost-efficient. Created by artists, for artists. I have extensive experience in compositing and pipeline development, working for over 12 companies on 3 different continents. I’ve worked at small, medium and large companies doing everything from on-set work and compositing, to managing teams of artists to developing and writing color pipelines for studios. After finishing up working at Digital Domain, I started Locktix, which specializes in high-end visual effects, in particular compositing, matte painting and environments. We specialize in efficiency. Occasionally I’ll get a call at 8p.m. with someone needing 4 shots done by the morning. We’re one of the only ones that can turn something like that around that fast.
What independent feature films have you worked on?
We have a variety of films and projects we’ve worked on. For indie films, we’ve worked on The Spectacular Now, Possession of Michael King, Hours, Cosmopolis, Maniac and Wallenda.
What’s the budget range of the films you’ve worked on?
Budgets have wildly varied. Some films are only 200k while other’s we’ve worked on have budgets near 10 million. It really depends on the production company.
On a low budget film ($500K – $1.5M), how much should a filmmaker budget for VFX, even if it’s for basic stuff?
This is always a challenging question for us to answer. Many times we’re given a script and asked to put a vfx budget to it so it can be added as a line item to the budget. However, it’s not that simple. What we do at Locktix is help directors share their vision. That vision can be evolving, changing as the film goes on. So really, we don’t know how much it will cost until there’s a locked edit and we can talk about specific shots. When we’re forced to guess, a good rule of thumb is to devote anywhere between 15% to 25% of your budget to vfx.
Do you have any tips to give filmmakers on how they can save money when they need VFX work?
Absolutely! Get Educated. The best way to save money is understanding the vfx process and what’s involved. We at Locktix take a different approach than most vfx companies and spend a lot of time educating our clients on our process. We’re happy to elaborate on such things as matchmoving, assessing lens distortion, quantizing and differences between colorspaces. Our most successful clients are ones who’ve done a little bit of vfx work in the past first-hand.Preparation. Being decisive and know what you want in pre-production. If it means storyboarding every single shot, that’s ideal for vfx work. We can accurately hone in on how much something costs if we can see an example of what you want to shoot. There are 100 different ways to shoot a car crash and all of those could be completely different visions. We’ve had clients who come to us with storyboards, reference material, videos, statues, etc. and we’ve had clients who didn’t know what they wanted to shoot until the morning of the shoot! The ones who don’t do any prep usually end up paying more money which can be easily avoided!
The world of VFX has changed dramatically and unfortunately we’ve seen companies shut their doors and move the work off shore. How does Locktix stay competitive?
VFX is an incredibly technical and artistic business that’s notorious for low-margins. I’ve come from the front lines of working for many vfx companies (2 of which went bankrupt within the past year) and I am really familiar with how they operate. I saw a lot of inefficiency. Many vfx vendors were even having trouble generating a quicktime with slates, burnins and proper colorspace. After 10 years of being in business, this shouldn’t be an issue.Many vfx companies “yes” their clients to death to get work. As soon as they are awarded a contract they think “uhh ohh, how do we get this work done?” When I created Locktix, I did the opposite of that. I developed a strong pipeline and tested it rigorously before looking for work. This allowed us to push through work much faster than other facilities who are using clients money to figure out how to do the work, rather than contributing 100% of the budget to the art, which is what we do.
Another thing we do to work with aggressive budgets is stay interactive with our clients. We intimately involve them in the versioning process. Many vfx companies will go through several iterations internally before showing anything to their client. We’ve found our clients like to see more work-in-progresses to see where something is going. During our reviews, we even bring our clients in to the studio and dial in colors or effects right there with them. Why go back and forth for 2 weeks on the color orange? Lets get it right, together. This mentality really shaves the time normally spent going back and forth.
What kind of films would Locktix like to work on?
We’d like to focus on what we do best, creating art and photo-real vfx. Although we’ve worked on fantasy type films, we like to stay rooted in destruction and sci-fi genres.