Wanted: visual effects talent that's – well, a bit special

  • @MrNickClark

From folding up the streets of Paris in Inception to making a magical world fit for a boy wizard in the Harry Potter series, British special effects designers know how to bewitch cinemagoers.

But one of the leading lights in the industry, which has grown to rival Hollywood's own, says UK-based firms are struggling to hire talent to create the next generation of outlandish visuals. Many potential recruits do not even know a British special effects scene exists, assuming all the most dramatic digital stunts are produced in the US, according to Paul Franklin, visual effects supervisor for films including The Dark Knight Rises and Inception.

"The key thing is about finding enough of the right people to work for us; it's a constant battle to find talented people with the correct skills, who are interested in making films," he said.

He continued: "Lots of people out there have the right skills, but they don't really know that we exist. It's a real problem. There's an assumption that the work we do is really all done in Hollywood. Films like Inception were done in Fitzrovia, with British talent."

Mr Franklin oversaw the effects used in Inception, which included the stunning shot of Paris folding in on itself, an idea he suggested to director Christopher Nolan. The film used 220 special effects people working in post-production for six months to achieve the required look for the film.

Mr Franklin also worked on the spectacular plane heist opening for The Dark Knight Rises, which included wing-walking stuntmen, models and computer effects all knitted together in their London offices.

A thriving visual effects industry has grown up in London over the past decade and the computer wizardry has won Oscars for work on Inception, The Golden Compass and Gladiator, as well as a string of nominations. Alongside Double Negative, Mr Franklin's employer, London boasts international effects houses such as Framestore, MPC, Cinesite and The Mill, while annual revenues from the industry are predicted to hit £600m in two years.

Mr Franklin said: "The work we do in London is the equal of any effects community in the world. This industry is a big success story, in the past five years there's always been at least one British company represented in the nominations for special effects Oscars."

The industry is hoping for more recognition after the first Visual Effects Festival, set up by Escape Studios, which is to be held in London next month. It will include talks from leading figures in the industry, tricks of the trade and workshops.


Gladiator – Mill Film

The film arm of post-production house The Mill won the Oscar for best visual effects in 2000. It not only rebuilt the Colosseum for director Ridley Scott, but the rest of ancient Rome.

Inception – Double Negative

The landscape of Christopher Nolan's ambitious science-fiction thriller, including the folded Paris, was drawn up by Double Negative, which landed the Oscar in 2010.

The Golden Compass – Framestore

Framestore picked up its visual effects Oscar in 2007 for the work on the Philip Pullman adaptation. The rendering of the polar bears was widely praised.