Fragments of Capital FX
2023-06-16 14:00:00 +0700 by Mark Smith
If you have been reading the blog or newsletter for a while, you'll know that I'm a big fan of podcasting. I've been listening to podcasts since the medium started in the early 2000s. I'm always reading about the developments in the industry with a curious eye. A recent pivot by Spotify that I read about really reminded me of my time working in the VFX industry, there are a lot of similarities in how that unfolded.
With a hint of nostalgia in my sails, I went looking for Capital FX, my old company, online and was suprised to find there weren't that many traces remaining. This post is a compilation of some of the fragments I found during my search.
It's not that suprising that there wasn't much remaining. It was a different time back then. The internet wasn't so ubiquitus. Sure we had the web, but mostly that just meant being able to send email, looking up company addresses and perhaps reading the news on the BBC website every now and then. Social media wasn't a thing yet. Facebook was only just starting to get popular at about that time. The idea of having an internet presence was totally foreign to basically everyone. Why would you want to tell everyone about the cash cow you had built? To most normal people that actually seemed like a rather stupid idea. You would occasionally put out press releases, but many of the publications that published those have since gone offline.
First a bit of background info. Capital FX was a feature film post production house specialising in special effects, digital intermediate, and later, digital cinema. I worked there from around 2005, building out the infrastructure as the company grew rapidly in size, taking on increasingly large high profile Hollywood blockbuster projects. The guys that started the company were, in a lot of ways, film production pioneers. They provided various services to film makers, most important and lucrative of which was foreign language versioning. They started small but quickly became central in London's cottage feature film industry.
Capital FX was acquired by Deluxe in 2006, and I continued to work there until 2008. It was a very interesting time to be there, because the entire industry was transforming to fully digital pipelines, from capture to theatre, but we were also dealing with movies shot on old school film. We worked on hundreds of movies, some of which are listed in IMDB. The aquisition was particulary interesting because we suddenly had access to other Deluxe properties including world famous digital intermediate EFilm. We worked closely together to build precission transatlantic production workflows that were used on films such as Children of Men, and The Golden Compass. Big name directors liked working with us because we had the most advanced equipment in the industry, and we knew how to get large complex jobs done on time at very high quality.
So what remains of Capital FX? Well the website is long gone but I was able to recover the company logo from the internet archive.
This is perhaps my favorite fragment of all. Look at that beautiful cubist and somewhat brutalist combination of small and big letters. And only 1 color! Imagine the confidence that this little photoshop fill tool special gem inspired as it zipped by on reels being watched on a Steenbeck, or indeed on expensive 4K digital projectors in blacked out colour grading theatres. All the goodie bags we gave to clients had this printed on the side of them. Wonderful. Such memories.
Before moving on to the rest of the fragments in our VFX archeological digg, let's take a short detour to learn about How London became the VFX capital of the world. I think it's important to set the scene a little. Ok now that you are feeling the vibe, lets look at the rest of the pieces that I was able to recover. I have also included links to internet archived versions of these pages, denoted by [ia].
Company info listings
DSG DIGITAL LONDON LIMITED (Companies House Listing - The Company) [ia] - You can see it was previously called Capital FX before the acquisition.
DSG DIGITAL LONDON LIMITED (Companies House Listing - People) [ia] - Some of these folks were the big cheeses so to speak, also features names of folks I used to hear about all the time but didn't actually meet because they weren't actively envolved anymore.
With Capital FX [ia] (IMDb - Sorted by Popularity Ascending) - This one gives you a sense for all the awesome movies we worked on. There were a lot more that aren't listed here. Turns out it's quite difficult to get in the credits, especially when the company that acquires you, in our case that was Deluxe, literally has it's logo at the bottom of about 1/2 of all films. The other 1/2 by the way have rival company Technicolor's logo at the end of the credits.
Capital FX, London (IMDbPro - Client & Contact Info) [ia]
Capital FX (London) (BFI - British Film Institute) [ia]
Capital FX Ltd - CFX - London (4rfv) [ia]
Staff press releases
Shelton, Clarke join London's Capital FX (Screen News) [ia] - We had many people join us as the company grew, it was a very cosmopolitan environment, folks from all over the world.
Tech press releases
Capital FX expands Digital Intermediate Services (TV Technology) [ia] - We built a for hire digital intermediate facility that directors would hire out during their production. We developed workflows where footage was being shot in LA and graded the next day in London, all sent digitally over the internet. The color science to get it all looking the same in all locations was quite complicated.
SAN Speeds Capital FX’s DI process (Infostor) [ia] - So much storage, everytime we setup new petabtyes of storage it would get gobbled up almost immediately.
Capital FX Speeds 2K and 4K Workflow on Major Hollywood Movies Using SGI InfiniteStorage Technology (Markets Insider) [ia] - We had a lot of SGI equipment, very fast very large storage for editing at high resolution. This article has probably the best description of the digital pipeline we built. Such a lot of equipment all pieced together in a few short years all while using the infrastructure at near capacity. Not only did we upgrade the plane's engine while flying the plane, so to speak, but no one had ever really built such an engine before. Using this kind of technology at such scale in the creative industries just hadn't been done before.
Lustre Digital Color Grading System Shines Worldwide (Animation World Network) [ia] - All the color grading software and hardware cost enormous amounts of money.
UK's CAPITAL FX BUYS THIRD FURY FILM RECORDER (Post Magazine) [ia] - We also had many Arrilaser recorders, and of course an Arriscanner which could scan between 4-8 frames per second.
Doremi DCI mastering and playback purchased by Deluxe Digital Cinema (UK Broadcast News - 16/05/2006) [ia] - All the d-cinema stuff was super high security, everything encrypted, very expensive pieces of kit, often required custom workflow integrations.
Case study: Archiving the blockbusters at Deluxe [ia] - The tape machines were awesome, basically a giant robot jukebox. So many gigabytes of storage.
That's all the fragments I found, there's likely more out there. I remember looking about 4-5 years ago and there was a lot more. So many things on the internet eventually disapear, that's why I wanted to capture a bit of a snapshot now of Capital FX, the pioneers of digital intermediate, visual effects and digital cinema. It was tremendously fun working there!