Florian Gellinger – Marvel, Barbecues, and the Future of German Cinema

by Graham Edwards

Florian Gellinger

Florian Gellinger is executive visual effects producer at RISE, the company he co-founded in 2007. The chair of the German section of the Visual Effects Society and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, he presented his company’s work on a range of Marvel Studios films including Ant-Man and the Wasp at VIEW Conference 2018. Cinefex spent half an hour in conversation with Florian, discussing a wide range of topics from managing a Marvel project to the benefits of holding company barbecues.

VIEW Conference 2018

CINEFEX: Your talk at VIEW Conference covered RISE’s work on Ant-Man and the Wasp, but that wasn’t the only Marvel Studios show you’ve worked on recently.

FLORIAN GELLINGER: No, we worked on all three Marvel films this year. Black Panther was by far the biggest one, and then on Avengers: Infinity War they threw this stuff at us for the tag sequence – the “blip” effect where people disintegrate. After that we jumped right onto Ant-Man and the Wasp. On that, you could say we were kind of a safety net, doing a lot of comp-heavy stuff.

CINEFEX: Did that mean dealing with the ongoing changes as the Marvel team continued to craft the storyline through post?

FLORIAN GELLINGER: Well, you just have to be aware that Marvel treats a live-action feature like Pixar treats an animated feature. I think that shows what exceptional storytellers they are, that they will not stop until the movie is out. That’s because Kevin Feige, the head of the studio, is still a geek at heart, who loves the source material so much and has his gang of people around him who feel the same. They treat the material with respect, and that’s why the fans feel treated with respect. Also, they are smart enough to make the whole thing appeal to a mass audience. I mean, my parents are watching Marvel films, and they’re in their early 70s!

CINEFEX: Some visual effects facilities have told us they adopt a slightly different workflow for Marvel shows, to deal with the unique demands. Is that how it works at RISE?

FLORIAN GELLINGER: I think it’s more the other way around. Because we’re used to the Marvel way of doing things, now we give all of our other clients the same treatment. We always have roughly 30 percent more crew available for the last two months of production on a show. That also helps us stick to relatively normal working hours. Of course, there are the standout shots which require more work and where we do spend long hours to make something exceptionally beautiful that we can be proud of.

Watch a RISE breakdown reel showcasing its work on Black Panther:

CINEFEX: We’ve always sensed that there’s quite a culture of fun and play at RISE.

FLORIAN GELLINGER: That’s the core thing, yeah. We believe that if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you shouldn’t be doing it. After all, we’re working in the entertainment industry. We’re not surgeons – this isn’t life or death.

CINEFEX: That spirit even comes through in your recruitment ads – which are often very amusing!

FLORIAN GELLINGER: Yes, and this is something that always puzzles me. You’re trying to appeal to young artists to work at your place, trying to lure in exceptional talents. Why would you do that with an overly corporate outer shell? I think you get the best talent when people get fair pay, and when they have fun doing their work. We think a company barbecue is always a good idea. Or a company party that maybe slightly escalates along the way!

CINEFEX: Is it hard to maintain that sense of unity across – what do you have, four offices now?

FLORIAN GELLINGER: We learned a lot by watching other companies grow. We always knew that if we were going to branch out and open other offices, then we needed to prepare all the tech that makes the work easy.

CINEFEX: For example?

FLORIAN GELLINGER: When we first opened our Cologne office, we made sure that you could instant-message anyone on their workstation, dial them up on their workstation or phone, share screens if you wanted to give advice or work together on a shot. When we opened in Stuttgart and Munich, we introduced the ability to synchronize all of the files for a specific show, so that all the files will be up to date in that other office all the time. So, if I’m closing my Nuke comp setup in Berlin, it takes about two seconds until someone in Munich can pick up and continue my work. The comp artist in Munich can then use the render farm in Berlin because all the files of his composite are already in Berlin – it’s only the Nuke setup that needs to be sent. It’s the same with assets, and so on. We need to have security clearance when we do this for certain shows, of course.

CINEFEX: It also helps to hold the team together even when everyone is miles apart.

FLORIAN GELLINGER: Yeah, it feels like everyone is working in the same building, but on a different floor. And they’re just too lazy to take the stairs! It’s like a big, slightly dysfunctional family.

Watch a RISE breakdown reel showcasing its work on Avengers: Infinity War:

CINEFEX: You work on the big Marvel movies, but you also do your share of German television and cinema. There’s a great heritage in German cinema, going way back – do you feel part of that continuum?

FLORIAN GELLINGER: Unfortunately, I think that spirit of innovation in cinema was somewhat lost over the last century. In Germany, we have a big divide between popular films and arthouse films. We do see really exceptional films like Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver, the children’s film that was released this year, where a couple of German visual effects companies contributed amazing work, but these are just unicorn projects that just pop up from time to time. It seems like the audience has lost its trust in bigger-scale shows, and nobody’s expecting to see them any more.

CINEFEX: There was a bit of a boom in German filmmaking during the ‘80s.

FLORIAN GELLINGER: When Wolfgang Petersen made Das Boot and The NeverEnding Story. That was still creative moviemaking. Wolfgang Petersen said that he moved to Hollywood because it was too hard for him to realize his ideas in Germany. There were always so many naysayers who would say, “You can’t do this, you can’t do that.” Same thing with Roland Emmerich. He did his German sci-fi films but he just didn’t feel wanted or respected, so he moved to the States.

CINEFEX: Do you see any opportunities for change?

FLORIAN GELLINGER: I just wonder why are there so few German produced films not being shot in English, because then you would access a much larger audience. It’s not hard to get an international cast in. So, at RISE, we’re going to try that. We’ll start to produce our own films in 2019 with a film production company called RISE Pictures. We’re hooking up with producers around the world to produce visually high level international content.

CINEFEX: That’s exciting. Do you think that will also benefit the German visual effects industry?

FLORIAN GELLINGER: I think that Germany was not at the forefront of the digital film revolution, because the tax breaks around the world focused the work elsewhere. That made it hard for an ecosystem to grow. Now, there is so much work out there, and the German rebates have caught up to the international competition, so it’s getting better and better, and you have companies like Scanline and Mackevision and Trixter competing in the global market.

Also, if you look around the world, there is a lot of German talent out there – people who might have moved abroad in their mid-20s, found a partner, got married and had kids, and now they want those kids to live close to their grandparents – so they’re looking for a place back home. So now you’re looking at really exceptional talents who have done everything from amazing creature sculpting to programming muscle systems and tissue solvers. For them, there’s a big benefit in seeing the industry grow in Germany despite not having maybe the support or the ecosystem to grow in.

CINEFEX: It’s important to get culturally unique filmmakers out there on the world stage – now more than ever, perhaps. A German filmmaker has a different voice than a French filmmaker, or a Swedish filmmaker.

FLORIAN GELLINGER: Yeah. I read that George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola were always jealous of the French filmmakers with their little handheld cameras. They were so flexible and could just go anywhere with their actors, pick any location they wanted and just start shooting. I think you lose that when your production reaches a certain size and you’re just going the path most traveled, and you’re not inventing any more. It’s like Rob Bredow said in his talk at VIEW – having all the options is not necessarily a good thing. When somebody limits your possibilities, that’s when you start inventing.

Save the date for next year’s VIEW Conference, scheduled for 21-25 October, 2019.

“Black Panther” image copyright © 2018 by MARVEL.

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