Meeting with Frederic Vanmeerbeeck, head of 2D at Benuts, who told us about visual effects in Belgium: "We are not a big country, but we do VFX and we do it very well".
Can we say that today, every film needs special effects and that you have become a real key in the production process of a film?
Absolutely! No matter how big the film or the subject is, VFX is there. When we think of special effects we often think of American blockbusters: mind-blowing explosions, robots, and anything that isn't real. But it's much more than that, today the demand can also simply be to change certain parts of the images such as cables that need to be removed, shadows to be erased, skins to be cleaned... That's what we call invisible VFX. If shooting was indoor, we can also recreate the outdoor. Indeed, today all projects require a small amount of VFX.
Have covid constraints on shoots increased your workload and the importance of VFX in films?
Of course, remote work has had a big impact on communication and time management at Benuts. Fortunately, we were on big long-term projects, which allowed us to hold on while shootings stopped. Now, filming is almost back to normal. Naturally, there are still some restrictions, covid tests to do, authorization to get, but it all works out pretty well at the end and filming continues, so we'll be able to keep up the work in VFX.
What are your big projects at the moment? Do you have a big team to carry them out?
Currently, it's mainly Belgian series and French films : L’Opéra directed by Cécile Ducrocq, Laïla Marrakchi and Stéphane Demoustier, La Corde directed by Dominique Rocher, 8 rue de l’Humanité directed by Dany Boon, Ovni(s) 2 directed by Antony Cordier… The team has grown up to 50 people at this time and grows regularly depending on the projects we are working on. (By the way, Benuts is looking for new talents at the moment).
Beside, we just finished Atlantic Crossing directed by Alexander Eik. This Scandinavian series tells how Princess Martha of Sweden crossed the Atlantic during the Second World War to call President Roosevelt for help. It was a huge job for the team!
In 2017, Michel Denis explained to Cinergie that one of the main problems in the sector in Belgium was to see young Belgian professionals leaving the country for companies abroad. Is this still the case?
Indeed, it is still a "problem". Young people are attracted by bigger projects abroad. Clearly, in the VFX industry, we’re often called upon to travelling a lot. It's very easy from one week to another to find yourself at 6,000 kilometers away, in Canada for instance, doing big VFX. So yes, we have talents that leave, but also many that come back after a few years, for various professional or personal reasons. In the end, it's a great thing since and it is a very interesting and enriching experience. When people come back, we try to hire them back. In the team, we all left at some point. It helped us develop new tools, using the experience we have had on big projects, and adapt it to other things here in Belgium, which allowed us to improve the VFX. It's a way of developing the experience in Belgium and showing that we are also capable of doing very beautiful things.
In Belgium, the VFX market is evolving in a very positive way, thanks to the Tax Shelter and regional funds such as Wallimage, Screen Flanders and Screen Brussels. We also benefit more and more from the trust of producers and directors, whether there are French, Belgian, or from further away. Our work is now active on the international scene, which attracts some talents to Belgium and allows Belgian talents to stay and find a balance and satisfaction in their work.
Are you having trouble recruiting? Are you in contact with graphic design schools in Belgium and abroad to recruit?
We go to schools and we attend to special events. We also organize student/professional meetings on Zoom. There is a real desire to go and find talents at the source, in their school, and to train them in our company. We are also working on other training courses that we would like to organize... To be continued.
In general, are you happy with the level of talents when they leave school?
Yes, especially in those recent years. I think that schools have understood that there was a gap between what was teached at school and the reality of professional life, whether in terms of the use of softwares, the pace, or the ability to adapt. Today, this gap is tending to close. Moreover, we often have access to highly motivated people, and that's what we count on. We can have someone who has gone through alternative training but who is highly motivated and who ends up doing an internship with us, which can lead to a possible contract with us.
You insist on the importance of being involved in a project from the pre-production step. Why is that? What is your role at this stage?
Our goal is to satisfy the director or the production company and give the best quality. When we can prepare a scene in advance, discussing with the director and/or the DOP the best way to shoot it, we can deliver better quality work at the end. Anticipation also allows us to adapt budgetwise.
In your opinion, when will be the first Magritte of the best visual effects?
As soon as we can have a section dedicated to this subject! (Laughs)
I think it's a shame in Belgium not to have a section that rewards VFX when there are talented and interesting projects too. It's a pity because I think that all the VFX companies in Belgium would deserve to be highlighted. It would also help to establish VFX in Belgium once and for all, to be 100% recognized. We are not a big country, but we do VFX and we do it very well.
What will be the next step in the evolution of VFX according to you? How do you imagine your job in 10 years?
I think the future is already here. We see it with productions on virtual sets (where the cameras are directly connected to a real-time 3D system). In Belgium, we are still a little bit behind on technology compared to big international productions because the financial aspects or the projects do not expressly ask for it yet, but it will happen, whether in advertising or movies. The main change is that we will be preparing the VFX material before the shooting instead of doing VFX in post-production.
Benuts is already preparing for this change. When the demand will be there, we will be ready to offer this service. We are already in discussion to do it for some projects. The beginnings are always a bit shy, we will help directors and production companies to understand this technology and its benefits to be willing to use it, and that's part of our job.