It was as early as 2010, as he likes to say, when Polish animator and visual artist Tomasz Bagiński pressured his friend Andrzej Sapkowski to make a film. Sapkowski is the author of the fantasy novel series ‘The Witcher’, and Bagiński – already nominated for an Oscar for his short film ‘The Cathedral’ – dreamed of bringing the series to the big screen.
Among the early boosters for the project was Platige Image, the Polish animation, visual effects and post-production studio that Bagiński joined in 2004. When Netflix stepped in to acquire the rights to “The Witcher” in 2017, the company was tapped to produce alongside LA – based on Hivemind. The Polish studio also became one of several houses to handle special effects for the series, earning an Emmy Award nomination for its VFX work on what has become one of Netflix’s biggest international hits.
“The Witcher” proved to be not only a feather in the hat for Platige Image, but also for a burgeoning Polish visual effects and post-production industry. Studios in the Eastern European country are benefiting from the growing demand for remote post-production and VFX work triggered by the pandemic, amid a surge in production around the world as companies rush to make up for lost time due to COVID-19.
“There is more volume, that’s for sure. It’s really visible,” says Karol Żbikowski, CEO of Platige Image. “The market is really hot right now.”
The biggest game-changer for the Polish industry has been a domestic production boom driven by Netflix and other streaming services. Earlier this year, the Los Gatos-based streaming giant announced a slate of 18 original Polish feature films and TV series and will unveil its new headquarters for Central and Eastern Europe in Warsaw later this year.
“When Netflix came to Poland, they forced people to acquire new knowledge,” says Kamil Rutkowski, CEO of Warsaw-based post-production house Black Photon. The streamer has set a high benchmark for technical standards for its productions and, in order to meet those demands, has provided free tutorials to local studios while helping them adapt their workflows. “I think Netflix has done the most to teach the industry,” Rutkowski says. “Over the past five years, the industry has grown very rapidly in terms of skills.”
This growth is one of the reasons why the Polish Film Institute will introduce a $50,000 cash prize this year to US in Progress, an event that runs alongside the Polish American Film Festival that features a selection of half a dozen American independent titles in the final stages of production. . This year’s edition will take place in Wrocław, Poland, from November 9-11.
Along with in-kind awards of $10,000 from leading Polish post-production companies, the PFI Prize will be awarded to a winning filmmaker who will be spent on post-production, picture, sound and/or visual effects in Poland. It is a step towards “encouraging independent small and medium-sized enterprises [foreign] producers to get to know us and see for themselves what we can offer,” according to PFI Director Radosław Śmigulski, who highlighted a 30% cash rebate that can be applied to post-production work in the country.
Poland has a rich cinematic tradition and local filmmakers – backed by an influential guild – have long pushed the industry to maintain rigorous standards. “They demand quality, and companies need to match it,” says Łukasz Ceranka, partner at Fixafilm Warsaw and head of its digital restoration department.
The company has restored works by Orson Welles, Andrzej Wajda and Dario Argento and has collaborated with institutions such as the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and New York’s Film at Lincoln Center. Ceranka says Fixafilm was also the first post-production house in Poland – and among the first in the world – to adopt the Academy Color Encoding System (ACES), which has since become the industry standard for color management during film and television production. .
American filmmaker Joe Sackett, whose debut feature ‘Homebody’ won Best First Feature at this year’s Inside Out 2SLGBTQ+ Film Festival in Toronto, went to Fixafilm for post-production after winning a in-kind prize in the United States in Progress Event in 2020.
“They basically left the door open for us to let them know what we needed, and without fail provided us with all of those things,” he says, including the film titles, credits and festival DCP. “When we were late in post-production, I knew we could go to them for anything, and they would help us.”
While the pandemic has been a boon for post-production houses around the world, as studios show an increased willingness to do remote post-work, it has fueled fierce competition for top VFX artists. That competition, in turn, has driven up prices in Poland, whose relatively low wages and production costs have long been a strong selling point, according to Żbikowski.
Although new post houses continue to enter the market, capacity is a challenge that threatens to slow industry growth. “We couldn’t do ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Avengers’ in Poland,” admits Rutkowski. “There aren’t enough people skilled in character animation.” Many of the country’s top VFX artists, he adds, are instead drawn to the burgeoning video game industry.
This is a problem that requires a radical rethinking of the way Polish artists are taught and trained. “There is no proper education for talent who wants to work only in the film post-production industry,” says Alicja Gancarz of Warsaw-based studio Orka. Rutkowski recently started the Polish branch of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, the trade guild that sets industry training standards worldwide, because he was “looking for knowledge” he couldn’t find in Poland.
Scaling is the only logical solution, but that’s easier said than done. “Training VFX artists is a long process. You can’t just fill the void so quickly,” says Żbikowski. As well as bolstering its Polish team, Platige Image has opened a studio in Los Angeles and is actively recruiting at industry conferences and events around the world, with foreign workers making up around 10% of its workforce – and growing. .
“The biggest challenge is finding the right people, not finding the right projects,” says Żbikowski. He’s laughing. “That’s a good problem to have.”