By Christine Lacaze
Montreal’s visual effects savoir-faire is indisputable and Rodeo FX is undoubtedly the tête d’affiche of a milieu known for creating your favourite White Walkers, making the Millenium Falcon fly and animating Kong, the giant gorilla monster. Spotlight on Jordan Soles, Rodeo FX’s VP Development & Technology.
Little studio, big world
If you’ve been to the movies or you’ve turn on your TV recently there’s a very good chance that you’ve witnessed (seamlessly) the stunning work of Montreal’s own Rodeo FX. It’s in the subtle details - details that often go unnoticed - that the visual imagery studio prevails. Not unlike in The Matrix, you know there’s a force at work behind what you see. You know that dragons don’t exist and that Viserion can’t possibly spew blue fire. You know that Chewie and friends can’t really fly a giant and rusty spaceship. And yet, the artistry is such, the savoir faire is so immense that you buy it. You believe it. And in the world of visual effects and imagery - that is where packing a punch holds its true meaning.
Since it’s inception in 2006 the Quebecois company has had a hand in some of the biggest feature films and TV series on the planet. From Arrival, to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, to Valyrian and the City of a Thousand Planets, to A Wrinkle in Time and most notoriously to Game of Thrones – the company is responsible for creating some of the most diverse and complicated universes out there.
Images taken form The Greatest Showman
With its 450 employees and studios now in Montreal, Québec, Los Angeles and Munich, growth seems inevitable, especially with such thrilling upcoming projects. “We work anywhere between 8 to 12 projects at once. We’re working on the sequel to Fantastic Beasts, the sequel to the Harry Potter franchise. We’re working on Aquaman, Death Wish, the movie Jungle Book from Warner Brothers… We’ve just started work on Godzilla 2 and the Nutcracker and the 4 realms. And we’re working on another Disney film called Dumbo.”
It’s no secret that Rodeo FX has notoriously worked on a slew of Oscar-nominated film. Most recently, the studio’s efforts were once again recognized when Blade Runner 2049 won for Best Visual Effects at the 2018 Oscars. Rodeo FX is a long time collaborator of fellow Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve – a privilege that doesn’t go unappreciated. “We were involved in a lot of films that were up for nomination which is very exciting for a local visual effects company”, says Soles. “We try to find projects that are interesting to us – it’s important when we like the director, we like the vision and we like the aesthetic. And being a native Quebec company, we also love to work on Quebec films – for instance we’re working on Xavier Dolan’s latest film: The Death and Live of John F. Donovan.”
Images taken from Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
The rise of Montreal’s visual effect industry
Despite the public accolades, Rodeo FX true tour de force has been to position Montreal as a, (and perhaps) the biggest player in visual effects artistry.
“I would rank Montreal right at the top amongst the big Hollywood players”, says Soles, a proud Montreal-transplant, emphatically. “As such, much bigger studios recognize the talent of the students and the artists here and the studios themselves too recognize the city particularly since it is much more cost effective than Vancouver or Toronto. So it (the city) managed to position itself at the right time and the number of major visual effects studio here continue to grow and we’re getting to the point where we’re competitive against giant studios like Vancouver or London. We actually see a lot of the big studios coming from London moving to Montreal and getting to grow their Montreal workforce. Artists are always inspired by the next challenge – so Montreal has just managed to position itself in a way where we’re able to provide creative people really interesting projects to work on.”
Images taken from Game of Thrones - Season 7
Innovation and the future
The digital world is constantly evolving and keeping up with the newest technologies is primordial for companies such as Rodeo FX. Two very exciting technological breakthroughs are machine learning performances and real time rendering. The former is based on AI while the latter, on gaming technology and both provide much-needed help in making the universe creation process faster.
“In our industry where timelines can be incredibly short and expectations are incredibly high – any shortcut is a welcome tool in our toolbox”, points Soles.
With a focus of innovation and one foot already firmly planted in the future, it’s no wonder that Rodeo Fx chose the Quartier de l’Innovation to house its Montreal offices. Perpetual self-improvement is crucial in such an industry but as Soles explains: “As much as you have to look ahead, you have to look behind – and as much fun as it is to build these virtual environments and virtual people and creatures, the reality is that the human eye is able to distinguish CG – computer generated images – a lot better that we get credit for sometimes. And at Rodeo we still have a shooting stage, we still have a team that creates fog, creates dust, creates rain – that basically creates real elements – and blend them with what we render in the computer because we feel that an old school approach tends to make the shot more grounded in reality and tends to make people focus less on the virtual and more on the real. And from our perspective we like that! We prefer that people focus on the story rather than on the fantastic images that surround the story. For us we really believe that the service we provide is to support the story ultimately and it’s fun when you get to create something and people have no idea that it was generated on the computer – that it wasn’t shot – and for us when people don’t even realize it that’s when we know we’ve succeeded.”