The Third Floor CEO Chris Edwards on Story Prototyping As a Business Model

Why wait until your movie is made to create a trailer for it? Why hold out for the completion of a script before you create an action sequence? As tools for creating rough animation improve, filmmakers and studio executives alike are looking to pitchvis—animated sequences that convey the look and feel of a film during the pitch process—to help make decisions about which projects to produce.

Presenting at the Autodesk user group meeting at SIGGRAPH in Anaheim Tuesday night, Chris Edwards, CEO of pioneering previs firm The Third Floor, showed part of a pitchvis reel created for the 2012 remake of Total Recall pitched by Len Wiseman. The pitchvis was created over the course of six weeks, Edwards recalled, with Wiseman calling the visual shots without the benefit of a script for the sequence. A week and a half after the reel was screened, Edwards said, the film was greenlit.

"Do more of that all the time, and we'll have enough work for everybody," he said.

Edwards then showed an A/B comparison reel that seemed to indicate that many VFX shots and sequences in the finished film were basically storyboarded in that first pitchvis reel, making it a valuable creative tool, as well. Disney's upcoming Maleficent and director Bryan Singer's Jack the Giant Slayer are other films that had extensive pitchvis work before they were approved for production, he said.

Pitchvis has become so successful that a new company is basing its business model around it. Edwards described Hydra Entertainment, a joint venture involving The Third Floor's founders, Maleficent director Robert Stromberg, production designer Dylan Cole, and storyboard and comic book artist Mark Morretti, as "a story prototyping and IP management company" that is developing visuals alongside scripts with an eye toward deploying the resulting properties across multiple media types.

One of the first projects being shopped around by Hydra is The Otherworldly Adventures of Tyler Washburn, which is tied into a picture book project developed by Cole (and profiled by StudioDaily earlier this year).

With relatively low costs involved in executing pitchvis for a variety of projects, Hydra plans to build out compelling visuals for multiple stories simultaneously, and then see which ones seem to have the sticking power required to get funding. Two of the titles he previewed are Ninja Scroll, based on a Japanese animated feature film property from 1993, and a science-fiction tale called New Babylon.

"We only need a couple of projects to go forward to support the whole ecosystem," Edwards said, "and let other filmmakers come forward and see their films come to life."