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Digital dawn

Avatar is being released in 256 screen formats. Think there might be a future in post-production?

Avatar is being released in 256 screen formats. Think there might be a future in post-production?

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[Creative Metrics]

Digital technologies light up increasingly large parts of the silver screen. Animation, digital graphics and visual effects play ever-larger roles in the screen industry. Out-of-this-world digital effects made close to home in Wellington dominate everything from Avatar, the futuristic movie with real-looking blue ‘people’, to human dramas like The Lovely Bones and sci-fi for all ages from District 9 to Under the Mountain. There’s gold in them there virtual hills.

Dig deeper than the headlines and shiny bright pixels are the leading lights of post-production for New Zealand’s screen industry. Terminology from the analog old days which is more Cutting Room than cutting edge, ‘post-production’ is no longer after-the-event but is often the main event. As the lingua franca for the lucrative and lustrous screen industry, post-production includes editing, captioning, film treatment, audio post-production and digital graphics, animation and visual effects.

Crammed with these digital technologies, Avatar is being released in 256 different formats—for cinemas, for home theatres, with Dolby, without Dolby, in 3D, Blu-Ray, for airlines, and so on. Different versions for different platforms, as well as featuring different languages, incorporate different bluescreened-details for specific markets. Multiple versions are needed to help recoup the $500 million that Avatar reportedly cost to make; pretty much everyone in the western world must watch it. More digital broadcasts create more appetite for digital effects, which means more movie-magic to be broadcast, and so on in a virtual virtuous circle.

Blindingly fast rates of change for movies and television make this a sector to watch. Total gross revenue for New Zealand post-production activity was $321 million in 2008. Almost invisible shifts occur within this sector of the creative economy. Kiwi screen production companies doubled earnings from $77 million to $155 million across 2007-08, about $100 million of this in digital effects. Meanwhile, individual contractors’ earnings contracted. Confidence that digital effects are tomorrow’s story today is evident in the charts below. Screen producers reckon future business growth is more dependent on use of digital technology, contractors reckon less. Their divergence is the money shot.

Digital divides the players from the service providers. Considering the dollars it takes to render virtual effects, this trend is likely to continue to marginalise little guys everywhere. Years from now, this moment will be regarded as the dawn of the studio system in New Zealand.

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