Recently in CGSociety’s forums a member asked
what it takes to start a VFX company from scratch. This is a dream of many, but is it a pipe dream?
One of the many great things about posting in the forums
is that artists of the highest calibre are also there, such as two time Academy Award winner and VFX wunderkind, Paul Franklin
Franklin has extensive knowledge of VFX start-ups; after all, the man - who is famous for his work on films like Inception
- helped found the VFX powerhouse Double Negative
Here is the generous advice from Mr Franklin:
There is money to be made in VFX - the market is continually evolving and opportunities emerge all the time - but it's very competitive and there are many many pitfalls.
The first question you have to ask yourself is how big is your team? The bigger your team the bigger and more challenging the work you can take on, but you will also need more infrastructure to support your operation - a big enough office to hold your crew, air conditioning for the machinery and so on. You then have to start thinking about things like toilet facilities, cleaning staff etc.
However, let's assume that you're starting out with a couple of friends - a setup small enough that you can run it out of someone's house. The first order of business will be getting your first job and then delivering on time on budget - this is often the thing that catches people out, sure your work looks great but if you miss the delivery or blow the budget then you won't get any more work. It's advisable to start modestly - aim at something that you know you can deliver and where the client is confident that you can do so. Small independent movies, TV shows and possibly commercials are likely to be where the work is to be found. Be brutally realistic about what's achievable - it's amazing how many people come unstuck because they can't do basic maths, ie if it takes one person a week to do this bit of work then how many people do I need (or how long for one person) to do ten times that much.
It's worth bearing in mind that as a new outfit without any proven track record of delivering the goods you will probably have to be able to work cheaper or faster than other established shops - the clients will know that and negotiate accordingly. On the other hand, lower-budget jobs are often where you get a higher degree of creative freedom and input.
Be professional - nobody cares how good your work is if there's no one answering the phones or returning emails. When the client calls to find out when the shots are delivering make sure you give them a sensible and timely answer. Make sure you have someone in your team who is taking care of business, keeping on top of the admin of the job and the company - most start out VFX companies die in the first 24 months due to cashflow problems.
In summary: start modestly, don't overreach, be prepared to negotiate with clients and make sure you have a solid producer/manager.