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CANNES 2016 Industry

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A French ambition for digital visual effects


- CANNES 2016: The CNC has opened in-depth discussions about the digital visual effects industry in France

A French ambition for digital visual effects
Jean Gaillard (right) at the CNC's VFX conference (© CNC)

At the Cannes Film Festival, the CNC has opened in-depth discussions about the digital visual effects industry in France. Jean Gaillard, commissioned by the CNC last February to look into the topic, presented his initial conclusions of the report that he is due to deliver later this month. To him, France has huge potential in VFX, but the national industry and market are not yet well developed enough.

The visual-effects sector is estimated to be worth around €80 million in revenues, with €15 million for cinema, and representing more than 2,000 jobs in France. But there is a strong trend towards the delocalisation of skills, with an outsourced activity that has increased by 60% over the past year. Coupled with this, French teams are very highly respected in the international VFX industry. France has some reputed schools, producing flexible technicians who are in demand. But there is a paradox: the French audiovisual sector under-employs its own workforce.

Yet there exist around 60 companies specialised in VFX in France, and they all have a large order book, even though the competition is high, owing to the particular characteristics of the market. Why is the market not developing? Gaillard was not able to find any answers by sifting through the CNC's New Technologies in Production (NTP) funding scheme applications, nor by investigating his fellow stakeholders. The phenomenon was partly explained by “a cultural reticence”, according to the former president of the RIAM (Research and Innovation in Audiovisual and Multimedia) network. As a matter of fact, VFX are not even a consideration in French production budgets.

On the other hand, VFX are not that popular, because they cost a great deal of money, so it’s usually an expenditure that is outsourced to a country with an efficient tax shelter, for recoupment. That explains why Belgium is a popular hosting country for VFX studios, most of which even have French origins. The CNC is now counting on the recent boost to the International Tax Credits to help bring back some of the activity to national soil. “We need to develop a cluster effect in France and act as the Anglo-Saxons do - hunt in packs!” stated Gaillard.

The discussion was rounded off by three eloquent case studies on French films using VFX: Swagger [+see also:
film profile
by Olivier Babinet, presented in the ACID section at Cannes (in conjunction with the Mathematic studio); Le Secret des Banquises [+see also:
film profile
by Marie Madinier (read the news), where a mix of digital effects and animatronics were used to recreate the Arctic and a population of Emperor penguins (in collaboration with the Mikros Image studio); and Up for Love [+see also:
film profile
by Laurent Tirard, with Jean Dujardin playing the role of a man who is diminutive in stature (in conjunction with La Compagnie Generale des Effets Visuels). All of the invited producers explained that they had had a great experience collaborating with their VFX studio – on both an artistic and a financial level - and they painted some outstanding pictures of the results.

This discussion was very well put together, giving the impression that there is indeed something to work out in terms of VFX in France. “It is an intuition,” stated Raphael Keller (of NTP), “like the one we had with animation, that there is this huge potential for VFX in France.” In three years, applications for the CNC's NTP fund have doubled, and the global annual budget is now approaching €6 million for around 25 films supported. “It is high time we positioned ourselves, because the VFX market is already structured on an international scale,” added Keller, “and France has the means to fulfil its ambition.”

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