Since opening its Traverse City, Michigan location in the fall of 2010 I.E. Effects has drawn high-profile projects to the facility, including stereoscopic conversion work on big-budget Hollywood films such as Fox’s Gulliver’s Travels and, more recently, Warner Brothers’ Green Lantern. And with Michigan’s generous film tax credits set to expire at the end of the year, the company will be directly impacted.
“I.E. Effects is a great example of how the Michigan incentive program goes well beyond film,” said Ken Droz, co-founder of the Amend Don’t End entertainment industry coalition which is lobbying to preserve the state’s tax credits. “This kind of long-term high-technology investment is exactly what we all want to see in Michigan. Without opportunities like this, young people are forced to leave the state to find these types of well-paying jobs. Along with all the residual financial benefits, the efforts of companies like I.E. Effects will create an infrastructure of equipment and facilities, as well as an infrastructure of local talent.”
With the growth in 3D theatrical films, demand for facilities and artists skilled in crafting stereoscopic content has grown dramatically. The core team at I.E. Effects, lead by founder David Kenneth, includes pioneers in modern stereo 3D who worked on seminal projects such as the Star Trek: The Experience – Borg Invasion 4D – a major attraction at the Las Vegas Hilton for years. When Michael Jackson began preparing for his This Is It tour in 2009, I.E. Effects was tapped to create dramatic 3D content for the show – shots which were later incorporated in the film.
When done well, stereoscopic 3D provides a stunning, immersive experience for the audience. However there are numerous technical challenges in creating good-looking images and edits that flow smoothly from one shot to the next. While 3D starts on set with the cameras, it inevitably involves extensive digital work by skilled artists in postproduction facilities.
“There are basically two ways to create the 3D effect,” explained Kenneth. “The most obvious way to create 3D is to shoot with two cameras, as was done on Borg Invasion and Michael Jackson’s This Is It. It is also possible to manipulate single-camera images to create the effect of depth perception. This process is called stereo conversion.”
This second approach was the path taken on Gulliver’s Travels – the Jack Black comedy which was released last Christmas. For that film I.E. Effects provided stereo conversion for over 70 shots, including the opening sequence in which miniature characters were tying down Jack Black’s character on the beach using dozens of tiny 3D ropes.
For Green Lantern, I.E. Effects did stereo conversion on a number of shots, including portions of Hal Jordan’s dogfight sequence.
“You can see in a project like this that the craft is evolving,” commented Kenneth. “Good 3D is possible and it’s worth going to the theater for.”
I.E. Effects opened its Michigan facility in 2010 after years of planning by Kenneth and his team. A Michigan native, Kenneth moved to Los Angeles in 1995 to pursue a career in filmmaking.
“The first time I saw stereo 3D, I knew this was the future of entertainment,” said Kenneth. “I have always wanted to set up a facility to do this type of work in Michigan. It’s just such a beautiful place to live and work.”
“We try to balance the workload between L.A. and Traverse City about 50/50,” explained I.E. Effects’ visual effects supervisor Dennis Michel. “When you do 2D-to-stereo conversion, there’s always missing information. Your left eye will see around an object on one side, and your right will see around the other side, and that requires a lot of subtle painting work, and a process called ‘rotoscoping.’ Our Michigan facility did an excellent job. Audiences for Gulliver’s Travels and Green Lantern would have no idea that this work was done behind the scenes. And that’s how it should be!”
The film incentives in Michigan are currently being debated with proposals to cap the program at $25 million per year.
“Some kind of cap on tax credits is reasonable, but we all need to understand that capping the credits means capping the amount of business we can bring to the state,” explained Kenneth. “We have a facility here and the means to bring work in on an ongoing basis. The incentive model is a huge success in other regions and we’ve shown that it can work here too.”
For Michigan, and Traverse City in particular, I.E. Effects has already had an impact. “The new 3D technologies are a growth industry and fit in perfectly with the kind of economy and jobs we have been developing here,” said Doug DeYoung, senior director of government relations at the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce. “We’re thrilled that I.E. Effects chose our community. Their vision is like our vision: stereo 3D, visual effects and postproduction put businesses into our community and provide well-paying, highly-skilled jobs, 365 days a year. That’s why they belong here.”
“Many film companies outsource their postproduction work overseas,” noted Kenneth, “but that is not our approach. We always have an eye to local, state and national economies as we develop our business model.”