Soho-based LipSync Post has been a reputation in post production, visual effects and digital intermediates over the 21 years it’s been in business. Some of the high-profile films that LipSync has worked on in recent years includes The Bourne Ultimatum, Hellboy II, and 28 Weeks Later.

The company has more recently moved decisively into production, investing in more than 14 films over the past two years, including up-coming British indie feature How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, starring SimonPegg, Kirsten Dunst and Jeff Bridges. Lip Sync also recently wrapped the DI and visual effects shots for The Secret of Moonacre, Gabor Csupo’s follow-up film to Bridge to Terabithia.

I had a chance to speak with Stefan Drury, head of VFX, when he was in Los Angeles to meet with a number of studios.stefan

Tell me a little about LipSync Post.

LipSync Post has been around 11 years and we have several branches. LipSync is unique in London in that it offers the full spectrum of post. We can do all of the post for a film of a certain size and budget. The company found that, as VFX became more common in film, they needed to facilitate that, which is why they brought me in over 3 years ago to build up the department. In London over the last ten years, there’s been an incredible boom in VFX, which kicked up in 1999 with the Harry Potter movies. At LipSync, we work on smaller independent films and it’s incredibly rewarding, a real sense of emotional investment on those films because you’re dealing directly with the people who are making the movies. Along the way, we realized we have to maintain a reputation, and the only way you do that is by working on bigger features. So we want a small section of work on name films. We have a very strong staff and our show reel has really developed. We’re getting into heavier CG work where intiially it was just compositing.

So, you’ve come to Hollywood to ‘sell’ LipSync as a VFX facility. How have the meetings gone?

The meetings have been incredibly positive. It’s been worthwhile coming out here. I came to Hollywood to meet with the heads of visual effects at most of the studios: Universal, Paramount, Walden Media, Disney, Warner Bros., DreamWorks, Fox and Summit Entertainment. Studio executives may have heard of us, but it’s good to meet face to face and show the reel, to confirm what they’ve got coming up int he future and that they’ll see us in the future. The deals themselves are package-specific. As a friendly gesture, I can say, ring me directly and I’ll give you the best deal. I can’t offer to do their next three films, because we don’t have that capacity. Some people try to grab the entire project and worry about it later.

How do you describe Lip Sync to these studio heads?

We’re not going to compete with the top four, but we have a creative, strong crew that can deal with a troublesome or unforeseen element of the film. They can come to us and know they’ll be looked after. Everyone at LipSync has worked at a big facility before. We’re a small facility with a big facility background. Maybe we can look at things slightly differently.

How is the post, VFX and DI business in London? How has it been impacted by the economy?

The last nine months have been up and down. The future is looking great at the moment. A lot of the big facilities have been busy, but some of the smaller facilities have struggled, because the big facilities have swept up a lot of the work. It’s weeded out a few companies. If we just offered VFX, on occasion we could struggle to survive. But what we have is a strong DI dept., very strong scanner/recorder, commercial advertising agency wing. All of those combined allow us to have revenue coming in even in a slow month. You have to have digital projection, a DI suite. You can’t be two guys with the Mac – those guys will struggle, although a few of them are opening up.

What kinds of films are coming to London?

There’s Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, a big Disney/Bruckheimer film. There’s obviously Harry Potter and Gulliver’s Travels, and Clash of the Titans. There is Ridley Scott’s Nottingham and talk of the next Narnia movie.

What is LipSync working on now?

We’re doing a little bit of work on Prince of Persia. We just finished some work on Fast & Furious. We are working on a movie called Mister Nice, about a gentleman drug dealer in England, a well read book in the mid-1990s. We’re doing the story of John Lennon’s teen years’ called Nowhere Boy, and we’re about to start work on Fantastic Mr. Fox.

This is a combo of VFX, DI and full post.

Can you describe the workflow at LipSync?

One of my main ambitions when I started at LipSync was to have a very productive environment without relying on a big R&D dept. John Stanley, our senior systems administrator, was at Framestore CFC for a long time. What we have to be able to do is to make sure we’re competing with the big facilities is to have a certain standard of pipeline. What we’ve got is a familiar kind of pipeline: PCs on a Linux network, running Shake for compositing, Maya with mental ray and Renderman for 3D and the usual render farm. We also use FilmLight’s Truelight player for 2K playback. We have a dedicated suite for all client and production review. So we review at 1:1 resolution which is quite important. In the DI suites, we have three Quantel iQs, and recently upgraded to the iQ Pablo, with real-time 4K.

I understand that LipSync has actually invested in 14 film productions. Why get involved with production? Isn’t post enough of a balancing act without getting involved in the very volatile production arena?

It’s a way of securing post work for ourselves, and allowing films to be closed financially. We don’t offer any real producer input. What we’ll offer is our expertise on the post side. We’re on board a movie called The Great Ghost Rescue, which will be our biggest participation to date. We’ve been on that for 18months, helping with script development and how they go about shooting it, from a creative VFX level. From a financial side, our financial director has been helping quite a deal. We’re learning from every film we’re involved in. The post has to pay for itself and any extra is a bonus.We have to be creative with how we approach things. It makes for a more collaborative experience.

Future plans? What kind of productions would you like to be involved in in the future?

From the VFX point of view, we hopt to get in earlier on some of the larger films. We’re hoping to expand. We have 25 seats, and we can expand to 50. I think we hit 50 and that’ll be big enough for us. Part of what I sell about LipSync, not just to clients but to artists, is that you’re only as good as your staff.You have to show you have a good environment to work in, and a lot of artists like the fact that it’s not a huge facility where it’s meeting upon meeting and they never get to meet clients. People here get involved at all levels.