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Finnish visual artists deliver fireworks on screens big and small

Finland offers film crews a wide range of locations to shoot in, from rugged wilderness to charming small towns and sleek cities.

Aleksi Koskinen / Visit Finland

Companies such as Troll VFX and Filmgate Finland are at the forefront of a new wave of visual effects specialists hailing from the country.

Troll VFX, a special effects studio based in Tampere, announced at the start of the month it has signed an agreement to create visual special effects for Havoc, an action film starring Tom Hardy and produced by Netflix.

Antti Kulmala, CEO of Troll VFX, told Aamulehti that the value of the agreement is roughly equivalent to the average total production budget of a Finnish film, declining to disclose the exact amount. The value, he explained, stems from the technically difficult effects shots required for the production, such as large cities, vehicles and chase scenes.

“This isn’t the kind of basic work where we clean up the film crew, reflections and stuff like that from the shots. Here we’re building complicated and cool effects shots,” he said.

“This is definitely the biggest post-production job that has ever been done in Finland. And surely one of the biggest ones that a private company has performed as an outsourced project for an international film.”

Troll VFX provided all visual effects work for the show Invisible Heroes, which first came out in 2019. Based on a true story, the Finnish-Chilean drama follows two Finnish diplomats risking everything they have to help people in need. Image: Troll VFX

Turning to Troll VFX was an easy decision, according to Aram Tertzakian, the producer of the film at XYZ Films. The two companies worked together on The Trip, a film shot last year in Norway with Aksel Hennie and Noomi Rapace.

“It was a good experience for everyone. Troll had the right skills and the right visual taste. In addition, their offer was competitive and they had the right vibe. Ultimately you always want to work with people you enjoy working with,” stated Tertzakian.

XYZ Films also produced Dual, the Hollywood sci-fi thriller shot in Tampere in 2020.

Aamulehti speculated in its report that the project could prove as significant for Troll as The Lord of the Rings did for Weta Digital, a New Zealand-based digital visual effects company brought to world fame by the popular fantasy trilogy.

Sweden’s Filmgate in October commenced work on three international productions at its newly established office in Turku, Southwest Finland. Filmgate co-produced and created some of the special effects for, for example, Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, an upcoming action comedy starring Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Antonio Banderas and Morgan Freeman.

The arrival of the award-winning production and special effects company underpins the port city’s status as an international film city, bringing long-awaited post-production knowhow and connections to film-industry players in other parts of the world, viewed Teija Raninen, film commissioner at Turku Science Park.

“Turku is now able to provide even more competitive services and co-operation opportunities for international productions,” she said.

The first production follows the exploits of Harry Palmer, the hard-nosed protagonist of films based on spy novels written by Len Deighton. Palmer, who explored the Finnish city in Billion Dollar Brain in 1967, is to be featured in a six-episode miniseries co-produced for ITV by Filmgate Finland and Altitude Television.

Filmgate Finland has been tasked with post-producing visual effects for the series.

The newly founded production company last spring also put pen to paper on post-production agreements for two films: The Lair, an action-horror flick directed by Neil Marshall, and Living, a drama feature directed by Oliver Hermanus.

All three productions have taken advantage of a production incentive granted for audiovisual projects by Business Finland. The cash rebate is available to drama, feature, documentary and animation productions, covering up to 25 per cent of the pre- and post-production costs incurred in Finland.

Six regional incentives are also available for audiovisual productions in the country.

Helsinki provides a picturesque backdrop for a romantic comedy, for example. Image: Julia Kivelä / Visit Finland

The national incentive was launched a couple of years ago in a bid to complement the natural pull factors of the country: four distinct seasons, a supply of audiovisual expertise, and a wide variety of built and natural environments for location shooting.

Environments featured on films and television series can be turned into tourism assets, as proven by Sweden’s Ystad, the home of fictional detective Kurt Wallander. Tampere, for example, is seeking to leverage the visibility provided by Koskinen, an upcoming police drama that is set to be distributed also overseas.

Sustainability could become another pull factor for the local audiovisual industry. Audiovisual Producers Finland (APFI) in October reported that all commercial broadcasters in the country have committed to adopting the sustainability strategy it is drafting to develop the social, cultural, economic and ecological sustainability of film and television productions.

The initial focus of the three-year project is ecological sustainability.

Antti Väisänen, board chairperson at the Finnish Television Academy, said the board had several in-depth discussions before committing to the strategy on account that many broadcasters already had sustainable development practices in place.

“However, building an internationally respected and tested operating model for the entire industry is important because it generates comparable data. Sustainability processes must be part of everyday life in every company, and common tools serve us all, regardless of the size of the company,” he commented.

YLE, the public broadcasting company of Finland, had announced its commitment to the strategy earlier this year.

Wares soft and hard

Finnish companies have also developed software and hardware for different applications in the audiovisual industry.

Codemate has developed a cross-platform service that brings together the several verticals of Oikotie, from job and property advertisements to online auctions and marketplaces. Image: Codemate

Oulu-based Codemate in October revealed it has developed the first ever graphic user interface (GUI) for Metaflow, the data science tool of Netflix. The tool enables data scientists at the subscription-based streaming service to better manage and track their machine-learning pipelines and numerous data science projects.

Toni Piirainen, CEO of Codemate, highlighted that the tool has a direct impact not only on millions of subscribers, but also on the numerous organisations that have adopted the open-source tool.

“The co-operation was especially successful in meeting the needs of different use cases and large-scale [machine-learning] projects, as ease-of-use and speed was raised to a new level,” he said.

“Now Metaflow can drastically lower the threshold of using data science in organisations’ day-to-day operations and increase the efficiency of data science in helping organisations to offer even better products and services,” echoed Brett Rose, technical program manager at Netflix. “For our customers, the results of this development are evident in even better user experience and content recommendations, to name a few.”

The Finnish software firm has been a development partner for Metaflow since 2020.

Dispelix’s see-through displays are the lightest and thinnest on the market, according to the Finnish company. Image: Dispelix

Dispelix, an Espoo-based developer of see-through displays for augmented reality, announced this month it has raised 28.4 million euros in an equity-funding round led by Atlantic Bridge, CCB Trust and Flashpoint. The round also attracted follow-up investments from the likes of 3M Investors, Lifeline Ventures and Finnish Industry Investment (Tesi).

The company boasts a catalogue of 43 patented or patent-pending product families, the first of which are to reach the market as part of consumer products developed by its clients in 2023.

CEO Antti Sunnari described the patented display technology as a “key enabler” for augmented reality devices such as smart glasses where weight, display quality and form factor are key attributes.

“These can be best realised by feather-weight single-layer optics, which is our unique forte, and we are now gearing up to scale these capabilities for mass production for our customers’ forthcoming consumer offerings,” he stated.

The displays are the lightest and thinnest on the market and maintain vivid colours, image quality and wide field-of-view, according to co-founder and chief technology officer Juuso Olkkonen.

“Our team of world-class scientists and engineers continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible with our arsenal of unique software and hardware technologies – fundamentally changing the way nanophotonics-based waveguides are designed and delivered to the delight of our customers,” said Olkkonen.

By: Aleksi Teivainen