Saturday, December 10, 2005

Macedonia's special movie effects

By David Reid
Reporter, BBC Click Online


These days major film producers use so many effects in their movies that they have to outsource much of the work from places like Eastern Europe and the Balkans. David Reid found out the part Macedonia is playing.

Macedonia is a nice place to shoot a movie, and there is no shortage of companies there whose sights are set on coaxing business out of Hollywood.

They are not, however, so interested in touting the former Yugoslav republic as a filming location.

Instead, the scenery they are looking to sell comes directly out of a computer.

So seamless are digitally generated effects these days that they are difficult for film producers to resist.

The pixel is replacing the panorama, as faking it becomes cheaper and easier than the real thing.

The increased demand means that media companies in developing countries like Macedonia are getting the chance to have a hand in Hollywood blockbusters.

Film producers in the US are looking to outsource the more labour-intensive animation projects.


This is highly skilled and intricate work, and involves painting in the backgrounds of scenes that have already been shot.

One scene from The Aviator was filmed in a giant studio, and Macedonia's FX3X was given the job of converting the green backdrop into the harbour where Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose performed its maiden, and only, flight.

Miso Ristov, visual FX supervisor at FX3X, told Click Online: "Basically everything was shot handheld or stuck on some cranes. First we had to track the footage and then blend with the background and make a seamless blend.

"You have to do it manually, frame by frame, so we spent two and a half months for probably a couple of minutes of footage.

"We worked 15 hours a day, maybe. No sleep, no seeing your girlfriend, no stuff like that."

Strength in numbers

Buoyed by some initial successes, a number of companies are hoping to club together to tout Macedonia as a new media hub.

In the past people wanted to be actors, now they want to be animators

In bringing all the workshops under one roof they are aiming for strength in numbers and economies of scale.

"The point is to out-grow the capability of any individual company", said FX3X's Kristijan Danilovski.

"Jointly they will be able to share the costs and invest in joint infrastructure that would help all of them create one virtual large company, a big player in the market."

The more hands you have on deck the better, and in a place like Macedonia, if you want a large pool of digital media workers you have to go straight back to the source.

FX3X used a US government-funded schools computer network to teach some 400 students how to use animation software.


But not all the country's talent is training at home. One rising star, Ana Nikolovska, is flying to the US on an animation scholarship.

Her success abroad will no doubt fuel the enthusiasm at home for animation and special effects.

She says: "There is a growing interest in 3D animation in Macedonia and it is becoming very popular, especially these last two years.

"I think lately everyone wants to be in the entertainment industry. In the past people wanted to be actors, now they want to be animators."

Hollywood is fond of rags to riches stories, and this former Yugoslav republic may well fit the script.

Many here hope that the country's enthusiasm for new media could make it a future player in the digital dream factory.

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