Sony Pictures Imageworks (SPI) is celebrating its silver jubilee this year. The entity is a remarkable, Academy Award–winning visual effects and animation studio.
In the last 25 years, the artists, engineers and producers there have created extraordinary and visually stunning images for more than 100 live-action and animated productions, from Contact and Castaway to Spiderman, Smurfs and Suicide Squad.
Their contribution has been enormous, not only to visual effects, but also as a leader in technology, helping develop some of the world’s best software (Arnold) and driving the OpenSource initiatives (such as Alembic) that have helped solve industry-wide challenges and deliver spectacular visual effects.
In an industry when companies struggle to survive all too often, SPI is an evergreen. It produces a vast array of types of visual stories, from their dedicated team initially at their Sony Pictures Studio home in Culver City and increasingly from an international collective of artists in Canada and elsewhere.
Founded in 1992 with just five employees with the focus on providing visual effects, SPI’s first office was sharing the space with TriStar Pictures production executives in what was then called the TriStar building.
The first thing that Jerome Chen, Senior VFX Supervisor Sony Pictures Imageworks, worked on at SPI 25 years ago was So I Married an Axe Murderer with Mike Myers. “I was brought on as a modeller and made a digital pickaxe – but it ended up being cut from the movie! So the first thing I ever did was never used,” he fondly recalls.
The team’s first major film was In the Line of Fire for Director Wolfgang Petersen that had Clint Eastwood as a Presidental secret service agent.
Chen recalls that at that time everything had to be invented, “we actually didn’t have any pipeline to use, for even something as simple as getting the film scanned. So we had to create technology to scan the film, how to scale it down, the colourspace – I learnt a tremendous amount on that film.”
The film was supervised by John Nelson (who went on to win an Oscar for Gladiator and be nominated multiple times for films such as I, Robot and Iron Man).