May 19, 2024

France’s VFX workforce has grown by leaps and bounds over the past three years, with much credit due to a 10% across-the-board tax rebate bonus for international productions that spend more than $2.1 million with local digital outfits.

Of course, the fact that American studios could also benefit from the full 40% tax rebate wholly on post-production expenditures has only helped matters further, affording top-trained talent the chance to stay in (or, in many cases, return to) France, proving their mettle on lavish blockbusters shot elsewhere.

The local VFX industry is “no longer viewed in the same way,” says the Yard founder and CEO Laurens Ehrmann. “Today, we get more work by word-of-mouth, as producers and editors pass along our name. Whereas before productions might spend the $2.1 million just to take advantage of the full tax credit, today productions that have never shot in France come to us directly” with much more substantial VFX buys.

Indeed, work on projects such as Disney’s “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” and Amazon’s “The Rings of Power” has given the Yard room to expand — an opportunity the VFX house seized by opening new branches outside of Paris.

“As soon as we detect a new pocket of talent, or if we already have artists in a certain region or town, we’ll make sure to open a new office,” Ehrmann explains.

Building on his company’s existing partnership with top ranking VFX and animation school ArtFX — which has campuses in Paris and Lille but was founded in Montpellier — Ehrmann looked toward the southern French city for his studio’s second branch, which opened earlier this year. And now that ArtFX will use France 2030 support to open a massive school and studio in the northern city of Lille, the Yard will follow in tow, opening a new office on the future campus as well.

“Today, companies have to reach out to the talent,” says Ehrmann. “So it’s up to us entrepreneurs to reinvent ourselves, to be much more flexible and create something new.”

Alongside new interest drummed up by the tax rebate, companies like the Paris-based MacGuff have tapped into public support to fuel innovation, using CNC development grants and a 2021 windfall from the industry’s “modernization shock” — a precursor to the wider France 2030 plan — to hone a promising new tool.

Developed in-house, MacGuff ’s Face Engine tool uses AI to de-age, digitally alter or face-swap already finished footage. The process forgoes time-consuming on-set makeup or prosthetics, as well as the rather distracting face full of black dots required for in-camera motion-capture, for a new method more advanced (but ultimately not terribly dissimilar) to the face filters familiar to all those with a smartphone.

“The process is so countercurrent to what we’ve been doing for the past 30 years that it feels like a shock,” says MacGuff co-founder and managing director Philippe Sonrier. “But to achieve 95% to 100% photo realism with CG is practically impossible; it would take infinite resources. Whereas, with AI, we don’t have to redo everything — we’re working with what’s already there.”

The VFX studio has already deployed the technology on Canal Plus’ “The Bureau,” Netflix’s recent limited series “Class Act” and on the latest season of “Lupin,” with a major, English-language series whose producers sought out MacGuff after witnessing Face Engine in action in the works for next year.

And before next month’s visit to Los Angeles with the CNC delegation, the MacGuff director hopes to clear up some myths about his company’s proprietary engine.

“AI is just a tool,” says Sonrier. “It requires reflection and an enormous degree of human, artistic work. You don’t just press a button and it comes out of the blue. It’s very complex, like haute cuisine. You have to choose the right ingredients and then prepare them. It takes a lot of time.”

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