PUTTIN' ON A 'GRIMM' FACE
• Local special effects companies help NBC series get spooky
Oregon's quirky style of Pacific Northwest gothic - mossy trees, lonely bridges, rambling Victorians - has done a lot to contribute to the creepiness of the NBC television show 'Grimm,' whose first season is being filmed in and around Portland through April.
If you've seen the show, you know it's not just the mood that tends to the dark side. Characters routinely transform into wolves, bears and assorted demons. And it turns out that many of these supernatural critters are homegrown, as well.
Take, for instance, the Ziegevolk.
Appearing in the episode 'Lonely Hearts,' and played by actor Patrick Fischler, the Ziegevolk appears to be a man with an uncanny ability to attract women. In his true form, though, he's a goat-like satyr - a transformation brought about on the screen through the work of local effects company Hive-FX. Hive also brought to life other human-creature hybrids, including a bear-man, a bee-man, and something called a Schlauraffen Witch.
Although Hive-FX already has a strong résumé, this type of high-profile work is a leap forward, not just for one company, but for the effects industry in Oregon. During the past decade, the state has been increasingly successful at attracting film crews, but the in-studio work has been a different story.
'Grimm' has changed that.
Vince Porter, executive director of the Governor's Office of Film and Television, says that having the show's effects produced locally is a big deal for Oregon.
'It was a huge win,' he says, and one that could pave the way for other projects.
'Grimm' took to the airwaves Oct. 28 with a limited run. At the end of November, NBC announced that it would extend the show to a full season. After a Thanksgiving break, it returns with two new episodes this week, on Thursday, Dec. 8, and Friday, Dec. 9. Thursday's episode, 'Danse Macabre,' is based on the story of the Pied Piper, and will be the first to showcase the work of another local effects studio, Bent Image Lab.
Bent Image spokeswoman Holly Petersen won't disclose details about those effects, which may or may not involve a 'creature.' The company, which specializes in both stop-motion and computer-generated effects, has the resources to create pretty much anything.
A chain reaction
Founded in 2002, Bent Image Labs has worked on ads, music videos and animated and live action films. The company has produced visual effects work for Gus Van Sant on 'Paranoid Park,' 'Milk' and 'Restless'; for the Todd Haynes film 'I'm Not There'; and for the TV show 'Portlandia.'
Its first full-length venture, a stop-motion Christmas show, was broadcast Nov. 25 on the Hallmark Channel.
'I think production people in L.A. are discovering that there is some great talent in Oregon and the quality of our work allows us to be competitive with L.A.-based visual effects houses,' Petersen says. 'With the Oregon incentive program we are finding that more productions are taking advantage of what we have to offer.'
Since 2005, the state has been offering financial incentives to film production companies, and the amount of available incentives has grown from $1 million to $7.5 million - although it will go down for 2012.
The expenditure seems to be paying off. According to the Office of Film and Television, 2011 was a record year. More money was spent by film and television companies in the state than ever before, and by a wide margin: $110 million, as opposed to a previous high in 2009 of $62 million.
During that same time, says Porter, the state has learned a lot about how to market itself. Oregon can't compete dollar-for-dollar with other states and provinces when it comes to incentive money. But the state offers a particularly good climate for television series - as opposed to blockbuster films - and it also offers an especially strong talent pool when it comes to animation and effects.
Initially, Porter says, 'Grimm' solicited sample effects work from a number of local companies, as well as from companies based in L.A. and Mexico. The Oregon companies prevailed.
'It was the Oregon companies that beat out the others, just based on the quality of the work,' Porter says.
Tom McFadden, executive director of the Oregon Media Production Association, agrees that recently the state has been successful at getting the word out that it has the infrastructure and the talent for these kinds of projects.
It's the Oregon brand, he says: 'We have amazing people - and we're a little on the edge.'
It's true, says Hive-FX Executive Producer Gretchen Miller, compared to L.A., the creative community in Portland is edgier, and also more laid back. Of course, she says, NBC has relationships with L.A. companies, and Hive-FX and Bent Image had to overcome a little prejudice to win the work on 'Grimm.'
It's work that has allowed her business to expand from 10 employees to 25, and that has already helped them land work on another project.
'There's a chain reaction here,' Miller says. 'People know they don't have to go to L.A. to get the level of quality. We're already seeing benefits from it.'