Interview with Mark Benard, President of Lost Boys Studios
CGC: You have been in business since 1997, we are very impressed, can you give us an idea of how it all started?
MB: I began the business as an independent 3D FX Artist. I had spent the previous year working in the local industry primarily handling mind-numbing Logo Animations. In a twist of fate, the company I was working for managed to claim a few gigs supplying VFX on MGM’s “Poltergeist: The Legacy” series. At the time the majority of the 3D work was going back down to LA. Times were changing fast in the VFX World. Desktop computing was just beginning to offer new competitive solutions to the fast paced film industry. I saw the opportunity to work at my own pace on my own hardware so I took the plunge with a $40K small business loan. (SGI Impact with Alias Power Animator) My first gig was creating Firefly elements for a MGM feature film “Warriors of Virtue.” Soon after, I managed to impress the VFX Supervisor of “The Outer Limits.” (That’s another story…) This led to more work than is humanly possible… (We’re talking, sleep only every other night, busy…) My 3D Elements were being Composited at a number of other Post Houses, both locally and in LA. This introduced me to 525 Post Production, the LA division of Virgin Digital Studios (VDS), one of Mr. Branson’s former Companies. VDS had a mandate to expand their line of Post Houses. The Tax credit structure that MGM was leveraging dictated that a large percentage of their budget was to be spent in Canada. Vancouver was a logical choice. Largely, I was in the right place at the right time… Next thing I knew I was sitting around a table with a bunch of Suits looking at their PowerPoint presentations and had a 50% stake in Lost Boys. Keep in mind I was the baby faced computer geek with no formal education outside High school… Yeeihah!
CGC: How old were you when you started LBS?
MB: I believe it was my 22nd birthday when I snapped and decided to go out on my own.
CGC: What would you say are the turning points for LBS?
MB: In the spring of 1999 we landed a Commercial gig out of Mexico City. That summer I realized that for Lost Boys to continue we had to diversify our revenue streams beyond the MGM Bubble. It was tough medicine to swallow but we became very strong because of it. That was the year that we truly became independent.
Of course I shouldn’t forget buying out Virgin in the spring of 2000. That was one of the more difficult challenges I’ve ever had to face. I will never take Lost Boys for granted. Everything went on the line and had to balance there for a very long time…
“Betrayed : E-coli”
For: CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)
Writer / Director : Anne Wheeler : Gemini Award winner (The Investigation, Better Than Chocolate, Suddenly Naked)
Dir. of Photography : Ken Krawczyk
Production Company : Minds Eye Pictures
Executive Producers: Kevin DeWalt & Laszlo Barna
Producer : Phylis Platt
Vfx Director : Mark Meloche
3D animation : Arlend Enger, James Lau, Jason Macza,
Digital Compositing : Kevin Genzel , Mark Meloche
Animation & Digital FX : baby bottle, water pipe, stomach and intestine models were the setting for which this medically accurate E-coli Virus animation took center stage for the Anne Wheeler movie “Betrayed”.
Synopsis: “Set in the Canadian Prairies, Betrayed is the story of a town suffering from an outbreak of severe water contamination. The fictional town under attack stands in for communities next door and around the world. Inspired by events in communities in Canada and abroad, Betrayed focuses on an issue that is becoming increasingly important to people everywhere: the safety of food sources and drinking water.”
CGC: Are your problems the same in 98 and in 2003, what are your current challenges?
WB: We no longer; need to function with Corporate speed bumps, worry about a single guerilla client, or pay an insane amount of cash for SGI tech support…
We still have to; work with tight budgets and even tighter timelines, play well with inexperienced and nervous clients, and juggle our cash flow to an unpredictable market.
We now must; deal with language barriers, travel to foreign locations, and market to our multiple revenue streams.
CGC: How many artists are part of LBS?
MB: I like to think that we are all artists here but technically there are 10 full time artists that contribute graphically.
CGC: What is the work that you are most proud of?
MB: I am generally most proud of any of our latest work since it best represents our evolving skills be it technical or artistic. Being a 3D guy I must admit some of our current Video Game Cinematics, which can’t be discussed publicly yet, are pretty exciting. Not to mention the Coke commercial that we’re currently working on which involves some amazing CGI Tornados… Let’s just say the Lost Boys have never let me down…
CGC: Which software/platform are you using?
MB: We put our faith in our home grown PC’s. It’s a bit of a fetish of mine to be involved in our system design… Real nerdy stuff… For 3D we use Maya with our own custom tweaks. Having a programmer on our team has been great. For Compositing we use After Effects. We find it very efficient for the multitude of projects that we must handle. Personally I am a bit of a cynic when it comes to “turn key” solutions. Owning a $1,000,000.00 Discreet Logic “Inferno” System and watching Moore’s Law tear it to shreds in a couple years was a very sobering experience. Our studio philosophy dictates that we put our values on creativity over technology. Lost Boys is not about our systems, it’s about our people.
CGC: We have noticed a lot of Computer Game involvements, is that one of your passions?
MB: It is. I love pushing our creativity with the full CGI projects. It really allows us a lot of freedom regarding control of the final look of the project. We are involved in every possible aspect of the piece. Since our long term goal is to produce some of our own content, the Video Game Cinematics provide excellent training for us.
With VFX work you are very dependent on the other forces at play. VFX is still widely thought of as a Post Production event. We are at the mercy of factors beyond our control.
Product/Client: The Electronic Playground (tv show) for Elecplay.Com Productions Inc.
Title: Electronic Playground
Production House: Lost Boys Studios
Animation/FX: Lost Boys Studios
CGC: What is the future of CG in Canada? How does LBS fit in that scenario?
MB: There is an abnormally high percentage of talent in Canada. Our Government has recognized the economic potential of the Animation and VFX Industries and as a result has passed tax incentives to assist in its development. I never like to make predictions but the opportunity is there. We are preparing ourselves to be ready for when our time comes.
CGC: You produced original content in 2001, what was the experience like? Would you do that again? And if yes, what are your reasons?
MB: At the time, our television series VFX work had a hiatus over the summer months. This seemed like a good time to give our artists a break from client demands and try to learn some new skills. One of our artists found a great children’s book and we decided to produce it as a short film. Other goals from the project were to learn what “Producing” really meant and at the same time evolve our pipeline to be ready for Game Cinematic Production. Needless to say it took more time and energy than we thought. Total creative freedom can be both a blessing and a curse. We learned how critical discipline to follow a Director can be. Anarchy can be very painful… To see more on our Short Film visit our web-site.
As I mentioned earlier we do have future plans for more original content. Of course the next time through we will have more commercial incentives. The Holy Grail is to become completely self sustaining. I like to think of it as evolving our revenue structure from the “Hunter-Gatherer” to the “Agricultural Traders.”
CGC: You are located in Vancouver Canada, how much of your work comes from the United States?
MB: This fluctuates quite a bit from year to year. I’d say on average the US is around a third of our revenue with another third Canadian and the rest “Other”.
CGC: What do Canadian Companies offer Hollywood that makes can make them competitive?
MB: Canadian Companies offer Hollywood to Hollywood but at a Canadian Cost.
CGC: What gives a VFX Studios a competitive edge?
MB: Many things can give you a competitive edge; it all depends on the type of Studio you are. With us it’s flexibility and ingenuity. When you have a small tight team communication can flow very well. We are able to restructure our pipeline on the fly as the inevitable challenges arise.
Recent TV/film involvement: (Number of VFX shots in that project?)
Miramax “Wrinkle in Time” Mini-Series (130 Shots.)
Miramax/Keystone Entertainment’s Feature “Air Bud 5: Airbud Spikes Back”. (70 Shots)
Western Canada Lottery Corporation: Campaigns for “Super 7” and “649”. (50 Versions…)
Radical Entertainment: (Gaming) “Proof of Concept” (60 Seconds of CGI)
Vista Productions: Houston Space Center “Mission to Mars” (Exposition Piece.) (60 Seconds of Graphic Design)
We are currently working on:
(2) Commercials (Coke “Beat” and Pepsi “Excite”)
(2) Video Game Cinematics. (Sierra “Hobbit” and a “to be announced” Electronic Arts Title)
(2) Feature Films (Miramax “J. M. Barrie’s Neverland” and Infinity Entertainment “Snow Walker”)
Interview by Carole Bouchard