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Rodeo FX: Breaking Ground in Visual Effects for 15 Years and Counting

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Sebastien Moreau, Jordan Soles and Ara Khanikian tell LBB why, after one and a half decades of outstanding creative effects, a new-look Rodeo FX is just getting started

Rodeo FX: Breaking Ground in Visual Effects for 15 Years and Counting

“I’m not so sure I believe in beginnings and endings.”

That quote, from Amy Adams’ Louise Banks in Arrival, feels notably apt for the visual effects powerhouse Rodeo FX. As well as encapsulating the company’s philosophy of continual growth and evolution, it’s also taken from one of the films which showed the world precisely what the studio is capable of. 

If 2016’s Arrival was a remarkable moment for Rodeo, however, it’s far from alone in that category. Over the past fifteen years the company has ignited imaginations across the planet with its work on blockbuster movies such as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and the Fantastic Beasts saga, TV smash-hits including Stranger Things and WandaVision, and ads for brands such as Apple, Dos Equis and Williams F1.

With a portfolio of work like that to look back on, it’s little wonder that there’s a sense of excitement around Rodeo FX as the studio celebrates its 15th anniversary. Even back when the company was first founded by Sebastien Moreau, the goal was always to aim for high-profile projects through amassing a catalogue of quality work. With that goal having been emphatically achieved, the studio is now looking ahead.

To look back on some of the highlights of the past fifteen years and chart a course into the future - both for Rodeo and the wider industry - LBB spoke to founder and president Sebastien Moreau, VP for technology and development Jordan Soles, and VFX supervisor Ara Khanikian…

Above: One of the many jaw-dropping feature films in Rodeo’s back catalogue is 2021’s Dune. To find out more about how the visual world of Dune came together for this movie, read LBB’s interview with Rodeo FX’s Deak Ferrand here

Creativity Comes First

“Of all the lessons we’ve learned since we first launched, there’s one which stands out to me most of all,” says Sebastien. “And that’s knowing that we never fail when we lead with creativity.”

That commitment to creative quality and integrity runs through Rodeo FX like a river. “No matter the project, we always lead with our creative foot first,” agrees Jordan. “When people come to us, it’s invariably because they have a creative problem which needs to be solved.”

Internally, embracing creative challenges is what lends the company its culture which has proven so successful. “Right from day one, we’ve been intentional about the kinds of projects we take on,” he continues. “We ask ourselves, what would excite our artists? What are things which we haven’t really taken on before? We know ourselves well enough to say  that we only pursue A-level work because once we're in, it's too hard to put the pencil down.” 

As a VFX artist and supervisor, Ara started working with Rodeo not long after the company was first founded. “Ever since the beginning, we’d always aimed to be working on high-end projects and beautiful pieces of film,” he says. “It was never just about doing the work that was put in front of you, it was about being intentional and building up a reputation.” 

In terms of a ‘breakthrough’ moment from the past fifteen years, it’s hard for the team to settle on one single instance. “It’s tough to pick out one project, but our relationship with Denis Villeneuve has obviously been hugely rewarding over a number of years,” says Jordan. “That actually started way before Arrival. When he was working on Enemy, he camped out at our studio to cut the film. He would come and get coffee with Rodeo staffers. I think that had a huge effect on the creative energy around the studio at the time, which helped us push to a new level.” 

One of Rodeo’s greatest successes, says Sebastien, has been its ability to rise up to meet new challenges. “One of the most significant projects for us was our experience working on HBO’s Lovecraft Country,” he says, “because it taught us how to handle volume without sacrificing quality. The sheer volume of work, I believe, is the biggest difference between the industry at the time we started and today.”

Another trend which has been emerging over the past few years has been an increasing demand - or even an expectation - for cinematic quality in other forms of entertainment. “At Rodeo we’ve always thought in those terms, because the first TV project we ever worked on was Game of Thrones,” recalls Ara. “So we’ve always viewed TV as a cinematic medium. With every project, we use an approach based on creative quality. That’s true whether it be for feature films, TV series, or ads.”

Above: According to Ara, Rodeo’s work on HBO’s Game of Thrones helped to instil a cinematic mindset across all of the company’s work. 

Future Effects

Rodeo’s 15th anniversary has come around at a dizzying time for the future of visual effects and CGI. With ongoing (and seemingly ever-increasing) interest surrounding the Metaverse, and virtual production taking off amidst the pandemic, a studio with capabilities such as Rodeo’s has perhaps never felt so relevant.

“In my mind, visual effects have always been about how we connect to works of fiction,” says Ara. “They unleash directors’ creativity. With what’s capable today, virtually no idea is off-limits when it comes to what’s possible to create on-screen.”

For Ara, the increasing potential of VFX is clear to see when approaching any given project, even more, when the VFX teams are involved early on “In the recent past, it used to be that VFX was purely a matter for post-production - in other words, after everything had already been shot”, he continues. “But today we’re seeing visual effects taking place in pre-production or even before. It’s being used to create environments for actors and directors to visualise on-set. That’s been a huge leap forward, and a testament to the technology.”

“Rodeo’s culture has always been about adaptation and rising to new challenges,” adds Jordan. “I’ve been here for eleven years - the longest I’ve ever been in any job. That’s because there’s always a different challenge and we’re always coming up with new and exciting ways to tackle that challenge.”

In line with that philosophy, Rodeo FX has recently undergone a rebrand. In doing so, the studio has repositioned itself from being known as a ‘visual effects company’ to a ‘creative company’. 

Above: To find out more about how Rodeo FX’s rebrand came together, read LBB’s interview with Vice-president Marketing and Communications Solène Lavigne Lalonde here

For Rodeo, then, the future holds a great deal of excitement with upcoming projects including Halo, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, Stranger Things Season 4, and The Sandman. Having spent its first one and a half decades crafting some of the most awe-inspiring fictional worlds one can imagine, the upcoming years promise yet more mind-blowing creative feats. 

That, when all is said and done, will always be the magic of VFX. And with their hundreds-strong (and growing) team of visual magicians, Rodeo’s future looks set to be just as unmissable as its past. 

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Categories: Movies, Media and Entertainment

Rodeo FX, Wed, 02 Mar 2022 08:51:00 GMT