‘Harry Potter’ eagerly awaited by Michigan 3D artists

Up in Traverse City, Michigan, no one is more excited about next Friday’s release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 than a group of 3D visual effects artists there, who had a hand in its production.

The 13 full-time artists in the new West Michigan branch of Culver City-headquartered I.E. Effects worked on 3D conversion for the wildly anticipated last installment of the Harry Potter canon.

The lovely Michigan summer resort city may seem an unlikely locale for a high-end post, finishing and full stereoscopic 3D facility, but it’s thriving, says Clover K. Roy, director of regional operations.  

I.E. Effects (the I.E. standing for Innovative Entertainment) officially opened Traverse City last February in a neat two-story building downtown.  Since then, the artists have worked on 3D conversion on high-profile, big budget 3D projects: Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part 2 and Green Lantern and Fox’ Gulliver’s Travels.

Clover Roy, I.E. Effects' director of regional operations in Traverse City

“We try to balance the workload between L.A. and Traverse City about 50/50,” notes I.E. Effects’ L.A.-based visual effects supervisor Dennis Michel.

“There are basically two ways to create the 3D effect,” explains president/executive producer David Kenneth, who founded I.E. Effects in 2005.  “The most obvious way is to shoot with two cameras, as we did on Star Trek: Borg Invasion and Michael Jackson’s This Is It

“The other way is stereo conversion, the manipulation of single-camera images to create the effect of depth perception,” which is the world of the Traverse City artists.

“We convert frame-by-frame,” explains Roy. “For Harry Potter, our artists converted over 70 individual shots to 3D.  It’s crazy, high intensity work because it takes a robust work force.  A two hour movie contains tens of thousands of frames.”

A Detroit native, Clover spent 22 years in Los Angeles as a video productions’ producer/manager.  She returned to Traverse City to be with her family last January and in February was recruited by Kenneth as the ideally qualified outpost manager.

In branching out to a U.S. city, says Roy, “David didn’t go the way of other digital effects companies that farm out their work to other countries.  Doing that, he felt, would mean losing a lot of quality control.”

Says Kenneth: “The first time I saw stereo 3D, I knew this was the future of entertainment. I always wanted to set up a facility to do this type of work in Michigan. It’s just such a beautiful place to live and work.”

I.E. Effects plans a significant Traverse City expansion

David Kennth, I.E. Effects' L.A.-based founder/EP

“Traverse City is a pretty easy sell to attracting talent” to work here, adds Kenneth.  He notes that their digital artists have migrated from other Michigan cities, Los Angeles and London. “Having talented people in Michigan to facilitate our Hollywood work is crucial for our business.” 

While disappointed by Gov. Rick Snyder’s dismantling of Michigan’s film incentives, Kenneth remains bullish about Michigan. He points to the state’s long-standing tradition of engineering excellence as a reason the company is interested in expanding its operations there.  

They plan on a staff to 50 by the end of this year, 100 by the end of 2012 and 250-plus company-wide employees within five years.

Apart from 3D movies, notes Ken Droz, cofounder of the Amend Don’t End coalition fighting for a reinstatement of incentives, “I.E. Effects’ long-term high-technology investment is exactly what we all want to see in Michigan. 

“Without opportunities like this, young people are forced to leave the state to find these types of well-paying jobs. Along with all the residual financial benefits, the efforts of companies like I.E. Effects will create an infrastructure of equipment and facilities, as well as an infrastructure of local talent.”

I.E. Effects is located at 315 Division St., Traverse City, Mich., phone 231/932-5400.