This month, we interviewed Ben Louden, Visual Effects Supervisor and Head of Studio at Viridian FX.
Viridian FX is a visual effects company based in York, in the north of England. The studio specializes in everything from invisible effects for film and high-end TV, to conceptualizing and creating worlds using full CG.
We caught up with Ben Louden, Visual Effects Supervisor and Head of Studio at Viridian FX, to hear more about the studio’s history and recent projects.
Can you tell us a little about your background and current position?
My career in visual effects started when a couple of film producers approached the University of York with the ambitious idea of shooting an entirely green screen movie, the intention of which was to create an aesthetic using abstract/hand drawn backgrounds, on an indie film budget. This was back in 2010, when the only real examples of this were the likes of Sin City and 300 – both of which were made with significant resources.
Hired as VFX artists, we were tasked with conceptualizing the film, figuring out how to shoot it efficiently, and running everything right through to the DCP delivery to Universal. We spent 4 months building our own cyc green screen, and doing test shoots using the (then brand new) RED Epic. Four of the six artists that made that film went on to form the team that has now grown into Viridian FX.
Can you describe the history of Viridian FX?
Viridian FX is a visual effects company based in York, in the north of England. We specialize in everything from invisible effects for film and high-end TV, to conceptualizing and creating worlds using full CG. We recently launched our R&D arm Viridian LAB, and we have a sister post company, Motion Post Production.
Born out of the experimental green screen movies (we actually made two in the end), Viridian went on to work on over 30 indie films as sole VFX vendor. Having cut our teeth on our own entirely VFX-based projects, we built on the skills and philosophies we’d learnt in order to deliver ambitious VFX for a range of projects, from 800-shot sci-fi features, to invisible effects for features such as World War Two drama Waiting for Anya. Our invisible effects work has more recently led us to working on high profile shows, such as House of the Dragon for HBO.
We pride ourselves on giving opportunities to our staff to get involved in the filmmaking side in the films we work on. On set experience, script breakdowns, director review sessions are all things you can find our juniors getting the chance to be involved in. The same goes for our pipeline – we’re fundamentally an artist-led company, and everyone gets a say, no matter how long you’ve been with us. Efficiency has always been at the heart of our core values – indie film budgets demand detailed creative problem solving, especially when it comes to the expensive world of visual effects. Most of our core team are long standing members, and that has grown into an understanding, and ultimately, efficient way of working. We feel this is imperative to our ability to deliver projects reliably.
Why are you based in York and what are the pros and cons of running a VFX company in Yorkshire?
York is our home. We grew out of a partnership with the University of York back in 2010, and beyond that we worked on a lot of Yorkshire-based productions. York has a thriving creative community, and it’s very rewarding to be a part of a city with such a rich history. Our artists love working here too, we don’t tend to lose many staff members, and the 10-minute walking commute to the centre of a buzzing city that has plenty to offer is certainly a part of that. From a business perspective, our costs are much lower than they might be if we were located in a capital city – this makes us really competitive too.
What are the projects you have worked on? Which are you most proud of?
It’s no secret that House of the Dragon was a huge turning point in the history of Viridian, and I think I speak on behalf of the team when I say that we’re immensely proud to have been part of building the world of Westeros for such a hugely successful show. It’s a vindication of all the hard work we’ve put into building the team over the last 12 years. Since then we’ve continued working in high end TV and film, and we’ve had the opportunity to work on the 200 million pound feature Heart of Stone for Netflix (check out our newly released showreel for Heart of Stone here), The Family Plan for Apple and Skydance, and an upcoming TV drama for Sister Pictures/ITV called Passenger.
Another project I would pick out would be Deus – Viridian played a key role in all aspects of the film. Deus is an indie sci-fi feature we made almost entirely in-house. We worked with the director developing the script, created all of the concept art, worked with the art department on designing the sets to integrate with our CG work, and completed over 700 shots, many of which were fully CG space exteriors, including a full FX simulated explosion sequence. The budget was relatively very small for this film and I’m immensely proud of what the team achieved given the limited resources.
Take us through your work on the House of the Dragon. What kind of work did you do on this show and do you have any VFX breakdowns?
We completed approximately 250 shots across 8 episodes. Episode 4 of Season 1 was mostly us, except for the big CG set pieces (boats, dragons etc).
We started off doing a lot of set extension work, mostly blue screen compositing of plate photography to begin with. Once we had built a good relationship and understanding with Angus Bickerton, VFX Supervisor, and Adam McInnes, the work became more and more varied. We ended up reworking some major CG assets, building new set extensions on the Red Keep, doing FX simulated blood work, and a few full CG shots amongst other things!
You can check out our House of the Dragon Season One showreel below.
How do you see Viridian FX developing in the future?
We’re looking to build on the success we’ve had over the past two years, we’re growing the team and hoping to work towards playing a bigger part in the studio productions. We’re building some great relationships and we hope to continue these as well as staying in touch with our roots in the indie film market. We have long standing relationships with some up and coming directors, who we’re really excited to work with again soon, and we’re looking to utilize our in-house art department and concept team to help develop projects from the ground up.
Keeping up with emerging technologies is also a focus for us. ViridianLAB was set up to make sure we keep abreast of these changes – advancements in AI, realtime rendering and virtual production are all changing the face of our industry, and being nimble enough to adapt will be crucial moving forwards.
What is next for Viridian FX?
We’re currently working on KAOS, a dark comedy based on Greek mythology for Netflix/Sister Pictures, and we’re just about to start work on House of the Dragon Season 2 – both of which are hugely exciting projects for us.
We also have a couple of indie features lined up for this year – it’s great to continue relationships with creative partners that we’ve made films with before. The indies also give us a chance to get our junior artists out on set and in amongst the filmmaking process – this is something we really believe in as a part of artist development.
Beyond that, we have some of our biggest projects to date lined up later this year, I can’t say too much more unfortunately!