Mal­tese vis­ual ef­fects com­pany brings 15th cen­tury Florence to life in Rai’s most an­tic­i­pated pro­duc­tion

Star­gate Stu­dios Malta is not your av­er­age cor­po­rate suc­cess story. This rel­a­tively small com­pany which to­day em­ploys some 25 peo­ple has worked for some of the most prom­i­nent in­ter­na­tional pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies and TV net­works. Most re­cently, the com­pany h

Malta Independent - - NEWS -

Star­gate Stu­dios Malta: tell me about how it all be­gan.

The com­pany started as The Big­ger Pic­ture some 12 years ago, and it was founded by Matthew Pul­li­cino and me as a pro­duc­tion com­pany.

Over the years we pro­duced high-end tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials, short films and other au­dio­vi­sual projects, pre­dom­i­nantly for the lo­cal mar­ket. In 2012, we set up Star­gate Stu­dios Malta by part­ner­ing with Sam Ni­chol­son of Star­gate Stu­dios, an in­ter­na­tional vis­ual ef­fects com­pany with more than 10 stu­dios around the world with its main of­fice be­ing in Los An­ge­les. Since its in­cep­tion Star­gate Stu­dios has worked on vis­ual ef­fects for a host of pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion se­ries and movies, like The Walk­ing Dead, Grey’s Anatomy, He­roes and NCIS.

The com­bi­na­tion of an ex­pe­ri­enced pro­duc­tion com­pany and a sea­soned vis­ual ef­fects (VFX) stu­dio has made Star­gate Stu­dios

Malta a strong con­tender to ac­quire in­ter­na­tional projects.

So what vis­ual ef­fects projects has Star­gate Stu­dios Malta worked on?

Since late 2012 we have worked on around 15 in­ter­na­tional pro­duc­tions, from El Principe and La Em­ba­jada in Spain, Pi­etro Men­nea and I Medici in Italy, to You, Me

and the Apoc­a­lypse in the UK. We have also been in­volved in Bel­gian and Cana­dian fea­ture films. Our work has been broad­cast on Sky, NBC, BBC, Rai, and Me­di­aset to name a few.

Now that we have just fin­ished work­ing on I Medici we are busy work­ing on an­other four for­eign projects, which are cur­rently in dif­fer­ent stages of pre-pro­duc­tion, shoot­ing and post-pro­duc­tion.

Would you say that I Medici is the big­gest show you worked on to date?

Prob­a­bly yes, it was def­i­nitely the most chal­leng­ing show so far. The show was pro­duced by Lux

Vide, one of Italy’s big­gest con­tent pro­duc­ers, and ex­ec­u­tive pro­duced by Frank Spot­nitz, the cre­ator of X-Files.

Ar­tis­ti­cally the stakes were just as high, with Ser­gio Mim­ica-Gez­zan, Steven Spiel­berg’s first as­sis­tant direc­tor for 12 years, hav­ing been called in to di­rect the project.

How chal­leng­ing was it to work on I Medici?

I Medici re­quired some big vis­ual ef­fects shots! Recre­at­ing 15th cen­tury Florence, Rome and Venice was per­haps one of the most chal­leng­ing tasks for us. A pe­riod project of this scale al­ways needs to feel au­then­tic. The show was shot and broad­cast in Ul­tra HD (4K), for which we had to cre­ate full 3D photo-re­al­is­tic en­vi­ron­ments and shots. Since late 2012 we have worked on around 15 in­ter­na­tional pro­duc­tions, from El Principe and La Em­ba­jada in Spain, Pi­etro Men­nea and I Medici in Italy, to You, Me and the Apoc­a­lypse in the UK.

For I Medici, we had to de­liver a to­tal of 450 shots for eight episodes, which is quite an achieve­ment con­sid­er­ing their com­plex­ity. The work in­volved ranged from cleanups of modern el­e­ments in the var­i­ous lo­ca­tions to full 3D shots of the con­struc­tion of the Santa Maria del Fiore Basil­ica cupola.

How long did it take Star­gate Stu­dios Malta to com­plete its work on I Medici?

We started I Medici back in sum­mer 2015. For five months I was on set in Italy, su­per­vis­ing all the vis­ual ef­fects shots, mov­ing from one beau­ti­ful lo­ca­tion to an­other with the rest of the crew. Fol­low­ing that, in Fe­bru­ary 2016 we started the post pro­duc­tion work on the project, wrap­ping up all the vis­ual ef­fects work last Septem­ber - a full eight months later.

I was back in Florence last week for the World Pre­miere of the show, a few days be­fore it started be­ing broad­cast on Rai. The first two episodes view­er­ship aver­aged out at around 7.5 mil­lion view­ers, mak­ing it a storm­ing suc­cess.

How im­por­tant are vis­ual ef­fects for such projects?

They are vi­tal. The thing is this, we do vis­ual ef­fects be­cause sto­ry­tellers some­times dream of stuff that is ei­ther im­pos­si­ble to shoot or is too costly. A story like

I Medici could not have been told

with­out the help of vis­ual ef­fects.

Why would an in­ter­na­tional pro­duc­tion choose to work with a vis­ual ef­fects com­pany based in Malta?

Malta’s pres­ence within the Star­gate net­work is key to at­tract­ing Euro­pean pro­duc­tions. As Mal­tese we have an un­der­stand­ing of the cul­tures that sur­round us and know how to in­ter­face with the dif­fer­ent mar­kets we are called to op­er­ate in.

We can give the Ital­ians, the Bri­tish and the Span­ish clients a com­fort level when speak­ing the same lan­guage and can also com­mu­ni­cate con­cepts us­ing sim­i­lar cul­tural ref­er­ences. The post pro­duc­tion fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives of­fered by the Malta Film Com­mis­sion also help in mak­ing a Malta-based com­pany an at­trac­tive so­lu­tion to in­ter­na­tional film­mak­ers.

From what I see, you pride your­self with work­ing with lo­cal tal­ent...

Def­i­nitely! It is very dif­fi­cult to find Mal­tese peo­ple who are trained in this in­dus­try. That is why we have to nur­ture them.

When we started our vis­ual ef­fects projects, we had a team of which around 70% were for­eign. Over time we started iden­ti­fy­ing lo­cal artists who were will­ing to learn the craft and we got them on board.

To­day we have a team of 25 full-timers, 90% of which are lo­cal. Hav­ing said that, we are blessed to have had some amaz­ing and tal­ented in­ter­na­tional vis­ual

As a vis­ual af­fects com­pany we con­tinue to grow and de­velop to meet our clients’ re­quire­ments. Our im­me­di­ate plan is to move into a big­ger space and we are work­ing on mov­ing into a 1,000 square me­ter stu­dio-fa­cil­ity in the com­ing months.

ef­fects artists work­ing for us here in Malta over the years.

Why is it such a prob­lem to find Mal­tese work­ers for this in­dus­try?

Un­for­tu­nately the na­ture of our work in vis­ual ef­fects is very spe­cific, and the level is pretty high. For var­i­ous rea­sons cour­ses of­fered at the Univer­sity of Malta and MCAST tend to be more generic.

As such, it is very dif­fi­cult for stu­dents to be in a po­si­tion to hit the ground run­ning in the vis­ual ef­fects in­dus­try af­ter they have grad­u­ated.

What are your plans for the fu­ture?

As a vis­ual af­fects com­pany we con­tinue to grow and de­velop to meet our clients’ re­quire­ments. Our im­me­di­ate plan is to move into a big­ger space and we are work­ing on mov­ing into a 1,000 square me­ter stu­dio-fa­cil­ity in the com­ing months.

Our pro­duc­tion depart­ment also keeps on grow­ing and pro­duc­ing high-end work for our lo­cal clients. As con­tent pro­duc­ers we have plans to de­velop and pro­duce fea­ture films aimed at dis­tri­bu­tion in the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket, con­tribut­ing to the con­tin­ual growth of Malta’s in­dige­nous film in­dus­try.

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