Carbon’s Frank Devlin on expanding his VFX biz to Chicago

By Randi Altman

Carbon, an established VFX, motion graphics and design company with offices in New York and Los Angeles, recently expanded to Chicago and set up within editing house Whitehouse Post.

Carbon Chicago is being led by executive producer Phil Linturn and creative director Liam Chapple, both of whom have extensive industry experience and both of whom have come to Chicago from Europe. Linturn joins Carbon after more than a decade at VFX house Glassworks, where he started as EP and moved up to COO of the studio’s offices in London, Barcelona and Amsterdam. Chapple’s comes from London design and animation house Mainframe.

On the heels of Carbon Chicago’s launch, we reached out to Frank Devlin, who is EP and partner for all the studios. Let’s find out about their expansion, why Chicago and why now…

Can you describe the company? Do all of your offices offer the same services?
Carbon is celebrating its seventh year in business. We started in New York in 2009 and expanded to Los Angeles in 2013. With our new office in Chicago, we now have offices in the three dominant ad markets in the US. We are a full-service solution for our commercial advertising clients, but we also work on film and TV projects when those opportunities arise. Each of our offices includes design, motion graphics and visual effects encompassing photoreal CG and supervision, telecine (Blackmagic Resolve) and finishing (Autodesk Flame).

Why was this the right time to open in Chicago?
In both NY and LA, Carbon is co-located with commercial editorial company Whitehouse Post, which also has an office in London. An opportunity to share space with Whitehouse in Chicago opened up and we jumped at the opportunity. It was a no-brainer given the success of the other two offices and Whitehouse’s experience and reputation in the Chicago market.

How are you, an independently owned VFX studio, expanding in such a competitive segment of the industry?
It’s true that we are in a very competitive segment of the market that happens to be expensive to support. There’s been a lot of downward pressure on budgets across the industry and it has impacted us all, no doubt. We’ve built a tight-knit group of artists and producers in each office that wear many hats and we have only expanded the staff with freelancers when necessary.

While some VFX houses are struggling, some are flourishing and growing as well. In any market and at any time in the usual cycles of recession and growth there are opportunities for innovative companies to get in and identify, and then creatively satisfy gaps in the market. I think we’ve been very deliberate in not expanding too soon, building our facilities and offerings and focusing on our clients’ needs as we received more, varied work.

L-R: Liam Chapple and Phil Linturn

You have two European artists running your Midwest studio — both come with very impressive VFX resumes. Was that a deliberate choice?
I guess you can say it was deliberate to staff up our new Chicago office with talent from outside of the market… it just so happens they mostly came from Europe. We wanted to bring fresh perspectives not only to the company, but also to the Chicago and Midwest markets overall. The staff was mostly assembled through recommendations and direct work experiences.

What do you hope their international experience can bring to Carbon Chicago and, maybe, even Carbon in New York and LA? Do you ever share staff or work?
In Europe, there’s a special bond between directors and post companies, and we hope to capture the essence of those experiences stateside. Our New York and LA offices frequently share work, and we expect the same will hold true with our new Chicago office. We’re confident that by combining resources across our offices we can pursue bigger VFX projects and use more designers to pitch new work in every market.

Would you say you specialize in spots?
I wouldn’t say that we specialize in any one area — we’re involved in a healthy mix of design, composite, and VFX projects. We’re an evolving creative company, and the real area of growth for us is taking on more creative direction of projects and partnering with our clients at an earlier stage of the creative process.

Our clients are more commonly leveraging our technical, creative and project management expertise to lighten their own workload and allow them to concentrate on other things. This has already led to a broadening of our creative output, so we naturally hope for this trend to continue.

Can you talk about your relationship with Whitehouse Post?
Carbon and Whitehouse collaborate on many projects, but we operate independently from one another. Our clients benefit greatly from our collaborations, especially through the ease of the workflow between our two companies. They’ve been an important part of our growth story, and we are grateful to have had their support all of these years.

We are an expanding company, and as we grow clients in new markets are seeking us out and asking us to work in new and interesting ways.

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