Pay attention to the visual effects the next time you’re watching television or a movie.
It could be Spiderman swinging from building to building, or Harry Potter and his wand against other wizards.
These are the kinds of visual effects Buffalo expects to deliver for Hollywood with Thursday’s announcement that the state will spend $4.5 million of the region’s Buffalo Billion to create a new visual effects studio and train workers in the field of post production.
Empire Visual Effects, which will partner with Daemen College, projects 150 new high-tech jobs in the next five years while carving a new niche industry in Buffalo.
“Why not?” said Marcelo Gandola, one of four industry partners collaborating on Empire Visual Effects.
“I felt it was the place to do it,” Gandola said. “All of the elements that it took to make this happen were here.”
Aside from the $4.5 million from the state, New York’s aggressive tax-credit program will also provide the film industry as much as a 45 percent tax credit on labor costs.
In addition, Empire Visual Effects might qualify for the new START-UP NY program, which provides tax-free zones for start-up companies located on or near college campuses.
Empire Visual Effects will locate in the Tri-Main Center on Main Street in space occupied by Daemen.
“I always felt that there had to be a way to leverage all that Buffalo had to offer – in terms of the affordability, cost of living and all the great talent here – to produce visual effects and animation in a big way for feature films and television,” said Benjamin Porcari, founder of IBC Digital, a production company in Buffalo.
Porcari and Gandola, along with industry partners Jonathan Hoffman and Pete Conlin, are collaborating on Empire Visual Effects.
The four have nearly 90 years of combined experience in the film industry, with a number of Hollywood blockbusters to their credit.
The growing use of visual effects, combined with generous state support to the film industry, has created a flood of post-production work in downstate studios, Porcari said.
Given real estate prices in New York City, however, it is too costly for the studios to expand operations, Porcari said. The studios could outsource the visual effects work to China and India, but not without concerns about quality and productivity, he added.
“We’re working with the effects studios that want this to happen. We’re not going to be competing with them,” Porcari said. “There is so much of a backlog of production work in New York they are looking for options, and from our initial contact with our clientele, they are very excited about this project. They are just waiting for us to be ready to accept work.
“There’s a need, and that in itself, I’m confident, will put people in the position that this is the place to come,” Gandola said of Buffalo.
The educational component was at the heart of the reason to locate in Buffalo, Gandola said.
“Daemen College has been so in front of it and on top of it and focused on it, so we’ll be able to build a job force that’s job ready and prepared to handle this type of work,” he said.
Gandola visited Daemen’s International Center for Excellence in Animation about two years ago while looking for opportunities to create a studio in upstate New York.
The partnership with the college followed after some courting by then-President Edwin Clausen.
More recently, the college recently hired California native Susan Weeks – whose film credits include such blockbusters as “The Amazing Spiderman,” “Star Wars” Episodes I and II and three “Harry Potter” films – to oversee and teach a four-month certificate program in visual effects.
“We’re trying to train a whole new generation of workers who can do this kind of work,” Daemen President Gary Olson said.
Four students are now enrolled in the program that started four weeks ago.
“What is really exciting to me is creating a situation where talented and creative young people don’t have to leave Western New York to be trained to work in an exciting industry,” said Laura Sommer, chair of the Daemen College Visual and Performing Arts Program.
The state money will provide the company with start-up capital, while giving Daemen funds needed to operate its certificate program in visual effects.
Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy announced the initiative at the Tri-Main Center, where lawmakers from the region’s state delegation joined him.
The potential for this industry in Buffalo is huge, Duffy said. “I think it’s a great use of monies right now,” he said.
“The state has been bleeding jobs for decades,” Duffy said. “This governor is trying to get those jobs back, and he’s paid very close attention to upstate. This is one more success story.”
Those in attendance also got a tour of Daemen’s Tri-Main facility.
In films like “Iron Man 3” or “The Amazing Spiderman,” moviegoers will see visual effects in every shot, Porcari explained.
“In other movies it may be subtle, where they replace skies or change an actor’s costume because on a different day they shot with the wrong tie and they can put the correct tie in there,” Porcari said.
“They can take a car and age it to look older or damaged,” he said. “There are just so many ways – most of which we don’t even notice.”