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Close-Up: Eden FX

By Jon Silberg

The Star Trek shows Deep Space Nine and Enterprise initially brought together Eden FX principals John Gross and Mark Miller. Gross, a former animator, owned a company called Digital Muse, which created 3D animation for the series, while Miller, who'd come in through the business side of the industry, owned Digital Magic, which handled the compositing for the common client. In 2000, the two joined forces to create Hollywood-based Eden FX, which continues to do a variety of visual effects work for episodic TV, feature films and commercials.

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Eden FX heads (from left) John Gross and Mark Miller. (Photo by Jon Silberg)

Eden FX now employs 26 people, including 14 digital artists and support staff, and regularly builds CG elements and does compositing work for a number of network TV shows, including Ghost Whisperer (for which seven members of Eden's staff were just nominated for an Emmy) and Lost (and also did extensive work on the earlier J.J. Abrams series, Alias). The company has also contributed elements to such features as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Spider-Man 3.

Eden FX runs NewTek LightWave, Autodesk Softimage, Digital Fusion, Adobe After Effects, Imagineer Systems Mokey and 2d3 Boujou on PC platforms running Windows XP, with some Final Cut Pro editing work and I/O functions done with a handful of Macs.

Networking is based around a BlueArc server. The company uses a proprietary rendering software, which can make use of their 200-CPU render farm. “We can bring in 50 or 100 more render nodes for a day or a month if we need to,” Gross notes.

Not surprisingly, the company that started out building 3D models for the Star Trek franchise offers as a specialty its significant collection of spaceship, jet and other flying machine 3D models. “We get a lot of repeat business from our very photorealistic airplanes and helicopters,” says Gross, who notes that a company like Eden FX must be set up to do a variety of jobs in today's environment, from the big “money shots” in a major feature to the kind of much smaller, “invisible” effects work that many TV producers have come to count on.

“On Lost,” he elaborates, "there are often other islands that you can see in certain shots, so they send them to us to be cleaned up. Other shows will find in editorial that they have a product label in a shot that needs to be changed, or something is set in the U.S. and you can see a Canadian flag. We do a lot of sky replacement, too. We do a lot of ‘palm tree removal’ for The Office, which is shot here in L.A. but is set in Pennsylvania. We did a fun job on an episode of that show where the character Pam walks on hot coals. We made the coals look hot and created the fire. On another episode of The Office, Dunder Mifflin has an infestation of bats, which we created.”

“It’s almost more profitable to do that kind of work,” adds Fred Pinkus, Eden's lead artist. “You’re not building big CG sets and characters. We have great people who do that kind of work, too, of course. For the movie Nim's Island, for instance, we created a lot of elements and did quite a bit of compositing, and that was great. It's also good to be able to do any kind of work a client needs.”

A viable effects house, Gross explains, needs to be able to diversify, especially in the current environment in which the number of major network scripted series is dropping. “We have people here who have built proprietary code for those very difficult types of effects, such as fire and water,” he says, “and we get a lot of word-of-mouth business for that kind of work and for our planes and helicopters. But people also know that we can take on those other kinds of jobs totally from start to finish, too. So that editorial can deliver files to us in any format they can think of and we can deliver the finished work back to them in whatever format they need.

“Clients really enjoy the experience of working with Eden,” Gross sums up. “We treat them as creative partners. We don’t have tiers of middle management filtering everything. So clients often work directly with the artists. Most of our clients come in because of word of mouth, and we get a lot of repeat business. And it also helps that we’re part of  [the] Point.360 [family of post companies].

“Because of that, we have the resources we need if we have to bring in special equipment or freelance artists for just one project. We like to think of ourselves as a small boutique backed by a company with deep pockets that we can dip into if necessary.”