In The Mix

Cause and Effects

Exploding growth in content leads to VFX expansion.

Ramin Zahed
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

    FuseFX
  • American Horror Story

    FuseFX
  •  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

    FuseFX

When David Altenau formed visual effects house FuseFX with partners Tim Jacobsen and Jason Fotter in Los Angeles more than a decade ago, few could have predicted that the streaming content explosion would have such a huge impact on their business.

"Our goal was to make the visual effects post experience smoother and more predictable," he says.

Today, the company has more than 300 staffers in offices in Los Angeles, New York City and Vancouver, and it delivers theatrical-quality visuals for shows as diverse as American Horror Story, 9-1-1, Lost in Space, Mr. Robot and Barry.

Altenau says that acclaimed cable shows such as Deadwood and Damages changed what people expected to see on TV. "In 2008, I was getting more work than I could handle myself," he recalls. "So I invited Tim and Jason to form the company, and we had a natural focus on episodic productions at that time."

With more clients demanding work outside L.A., FuseFX opened its New York and Vancouver studios in 2014, and the company has continued growing. In fact, it's looking at doubling the size of its Vancouver house and opening locations in Atlanta, London and Montreal.

Thanks to a roster of clients such as Netflix, HBO, Hulu and FX, the studio had no problem attracting top VFX pros like three-time Oscar winner Jim Rygiel (The Lord of the Rings trilogy). "Episodic is all I watch these days," Rygiel says. "We are witnessing such a renaissance in creative work being done for streaming services, and it's going to get even bigger in the next few years.

"The small screen is not so small anymore," he adds. "We're doing almost everything in 4K now. The data depth and image quality that we're creating for episodic has surpassed the typical requirements for feature work today."

FuseFX uses the industry's go-to tools such as 3ds Max, Maya, Houdini and Nuke. The firm also uses its own proprietary pipeline and production management system, Nucleus.

In addition to handling demanding visual effects for returning favorites such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Magicians, The 100 and True Detective, FuseFX has worked on Ava DuVernay's When They See Us (Netflix) and the long-anticipated Deadwood movie (HBO), both of which premiered in late May.

"We are in a great position to service these shows," Altenau says. "Filmmakers are relying on visual effects more than ever before. We are seeing fully CG environments and primary digital characters in episodic projects — things that were out of reach for weekly projects before.

"We are also expanding our concept and design teams so we can engage with creatives earlier on in the process, and provide a variety of design services as the production evolves.

"Essentially," he says, "we are growing so we can keep up with the phenomenal growth of our industry."


This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 5, 2019