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The Creative-Cartel: A VFX Company With A Twist

If one looks closely at the Creative-Cartel logo, an optical illusion appears: not only are the hyphenated initials present, but they also form a computer’s “power on” button.  Founder Jenny Fulle had just begun developing a high-concept website design when her fledgling company suddenly received its first offer.

“We were trying to get a concept for our website going,” said Fulle.  “Then we got slammed with work and we never looked at it again.  It’s the defacto logo – it’s grown on me because I’ve been living with it for the past nine months.”

During those nine month’s the upstart company managed the entire visual effects process, from pre-production to post-production, for “Priest,” a 3-D horror film that’s been receiving considerable buzz well before its May 2011 release.  The Creative-Cartel oversaw roughly 780 shots for the effects-heavy apocalyptic vampire story.  Fulle’s experience and innovative business model effectively tackled this daunting task.

Fulle’s credits as a Visual Effects Executive Producer include work as diverse as the Charlie’s Angles franchise, “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” “Big Fish,” “Ghost Rider,” and “Surf’s Up.”  After spending eleven years as executive vice president of production/executive producer at Sony Pictures Imageworks, Fulle felt it was time to redirect not only her career but also the mentality behind the independent VFX house.

“The climate in the visual effects industry has evolved and changed quite a bit,” said Fulle.  “While I was at Imageworks I helped set up Imageworks India, and that was an amazing experience. It opened my eyes to the fact that the digital community is continuing to spread all over the world.  In England they are doing it, in Canada they’re doing it, and doing it for a lot less money.  If we don’t do a little self help, we’re going to see more and more of the work go away.”

To minimize overhead, Fulle redefined the centralized structure of a brick and mortar building which would be filled with a full time staff.  She established a core group of employees, including an asset manager and production coordinator, and this set up became the hub for a production management and digital access based company.  The goal of The Creative-Cartel is to work with any number of individuals and companies domestically and internationally, putting together teams that are specifically tailored to each in-coming project.

“I certainly do have go-to people, but because no two shows are the same, and the requirements of shows vary, I wouldn’t want to have to go to the same person, because it wouldn’t always be the right fit,” said Fulle.  “I don’t want to have to feel like I need to go to the same person or full timers or artist types – we go to whoever is best suited for the work.”

Avoiding the need for a physical base, The Creative-Cartel is able to expand its storage space because those individuals working on a project are bringing the capabilities of their equipment to that project.

“What we end up having is massive storage, to keep all the assets and final images in any iteration along the way that are important to the studio to hold on to,” said Fulle.  “At the end of the day when the show is done, we package up all those assets, we put them on a drive, and we pass it over to the client in a way they can still access in the future.”

While eliminating the overhead costs of a facility and large in-house pipeline for storage and information, Fulle does have a collection of individuals working in various time zones and environments.  This fractured workforce has neither slowed down productivity nor communication between staff significantly, however. Software such as cineSync allows all artists working on a clip to connect to review and discuss changes simultaneously.  Files can be sent between individuals in less than sixty seconds.  iChat, cell phones, and conference calls keep everyone informed and up-to-date on the progression of a project’s direction.

“I believe in the idea of a virtual studio,” said Fulle.  “I think that when you find talented people, you actually get a lot more boom for your buck when you let them stay in their own environment and work more comfortably.”

Although Fulle is looking for the best possible work force world-wide, the team behind the VFX production on “Priest” was comprised primarily of California-based staff.  The production had been accepted for the California production tax incentive rebate, and in order to receive the rebate the workforce used on the film had to be primarily locally-based crew.

“We wanted to keep as much of that work in California as possible,” said Fulle.  “For some of the more ‘late to the party’ shots, we ended up going to the UK and Australia.  We had a little bit of internal work that got sent out to India and to Thailand, but for the most part, it was done here in California.”

At this point in her professional development, Fulle does have the luxury to be a bit choosy regarding what projects her company takes on.  She’s worked on the major blockbusters and franchises like “Spiderman” and “The Matrix” sequels and has proven her worth in the world of visual effects.  Now, she would like to focus on smaller stories that connect with her more emotionally.

“There could be a lot of different variables with the content,” said Fulle.  “It can be about something that I feel is important or somehow touches me emotionally, but really it’s about wanting to enjoy what I’m doing, and about the people I am working with.  I’ll do almost anything to be around people that inspire me and make me laugh and make me look forward to going to work every day.”

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