GenArts Inks Major Visual Effects Software Deal with Lucasfilm

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to extend the reach [of GenArts’ plug-ins] beyond film and TV into games,” he says. “You can apply our visual effects to 3-D worlds, the same way you would to photography—a great example of that is the Clone Wars series on TV, where they use Sapphire to add visual effects to animated footage.” Thanks to the growing power of the graphics processing units inside many computers and game consoles, the same kinds of effects that used to require expensive compositing systems can now be rendered on the fly in games.

Hays, the co-founder and former COO of Massive Incorporated, an in-game advertising network for video games bought by Microsoft in 2006, was brought into GenArts last summer, shortly after the company received a capital infusion from Insight Venture Partners of New York.

“Although GenArts has been extremely well known and a strong brand in the industry, there is an opportunity to grow the company given a couple of trends,” Hays says. “The first one being that visual special effects have become essential to modern-day storytelling—they aren’t just used for creating explosions or futuristic scenes, but they really touch almost every frame of most productions today. The second is this sense of expanding beyond film and TV to video games and online media. We’ve traditionally been associated with film, but this notion of taking a character or an emotion and translating that from film into video games is the direction the industry is going.”

Revenge of the Sith, visual effects by Lucasfilm and GenArtsWhile GenArts won’t disclose the size of its staff, Hays does say that the Cambridge office has grown by about 50 percent in the last year. The company recently opened an office on the West Coast, headed by Bannerman, who previously founded and led Caststream, a streaming media company that’s now part of Sun Microsystems. And with the acquisition in January of SpeedSix, a small Surrey, England-based software firm that brought with it the Monsters and Raptors plug-ins, it also has a UK presence.

But as strategic as the company’s move into video game effects may be, the Lucasfilm agreement represents, at its core, the cementing of a lucrative supplier relationship. Bannerman says it’s the equivalent of a big company where many divisions are buying their own copies of Microsoft Office becoming a regular corporate customer and buying seat licenses en masse.

And that could ultimately help all of Lucasfilm’s digital artists do their jobs faster, better, and cheaper. Says Hays: “The chief technology officer at Lucasfilm [Richard Kerris] likes to say that the dreams aren’t getting any smaller, but the budget and time pressures are growing. So the opportunity is to help companies push the envelope of creativity and productivity. Standardizing on our set of tools enables them to do that.”

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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