Cause and FX

Highway 71 Productions' Brian McNulty on rethinking the business

As a post-production and visual effects producer on such films as Wolfgang Peterson's The Perfect Storm, Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids 2, Spy Kids 3, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Brian McNulty of Highway 71 Productions guides the integration of visual and special physical effects companies to effects-heavy film productions.

Austin Chronicle: How long have you been doing this and what, exactly, does the job entail?

Brian McNulty: I have 17 years' experience, but Highway 71 is 21Ú2 years old. I go back and forth to L.A. and I produce visual effects, as opposed to being a visual effects supervisor, which is more behind-the-camera and on-the-set. I will help a filmmaker match with a company and then I'll try and ensure that director's vision through that company. In the cast of Robert Rodriguez, I was the liaison to a myriad of VFX houses: Hybride, Cafe Effects, the Orphanage, Cinesite, Janimation, and Reel FX up in Dallas. Right now, I'm working for Reel FX.

AC: How does the Dallas VFX scene compare to Austin's?

BM: It's easier to recruit to Austin than it is to Dallas, but they're having a lot of success: They're pulling a lot of young artists out of the Ringling school in Florida as well as the Art Institute of Dallas. A lot of them have to substantiate their livings between movies with advertising work. Dallas is the new Chicago. There are 20 of the top 100 companies in America headquartered in Dallas.

AC: How have you seen the VFX industry change?

BM: Back in the Nineties, on a major studio motion picture, you would solicit bids from L.A.-based VFX houses. It was a case of "round up the usual suspects" – ILM, Digital Domain, Cinesite, Rhythm and Hues, Sony Imageworks, and a few boutiques – and they could pick and choose the projects they worked on and set the price. That changed when people like James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez began to take more of the process in-house, because it was much easier to eliminate all that overhead. That has been the trend through the late Nineties.

AC: Where does that take the industry now?

BM: Those big, overhead-laden VFX houses have been forced to rethink their business, which is very good. Couple that with the ongoing trend to go to Canada and the UK to shoot because it's more cost-effective, and you have more and more work leaving Los Angeles. These days, if a project comes in with 250-300 VFX shots, which used to be considered a massive show, it's nothing; 1,500 shots is big now. Rates are going down, quality is going up, and the bar is being pushed, hard.

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