Quebec shops rule at dinosaur FX

Quebec seems to have the market cornered on 3D dinosaurs.

Mark Dubeau is the Montrealer who picked up a Visual Effects Society Award on Feb. 10 in Los Angeles for the IMAX 3D flick Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure, and found it ‘surreal’ to win in the presence of the famed director of Jurassic Park at the Kodak Grand Ballroom awards show.

‘Steven Spielberg [who was receiving a lifetime achievement award] was sitting in front of me,’ says Dubeau, artistic director at Montreal-based damnfx. ‘When I accepted the prize, I was obviously swollen with pride and felt that perhaps I wasn’t quite worthy of it.’

The award from the largest professional association in the special effects business was shared with damnfx’s Sean Phillips, Jack Geist and Robin Aristorenas.

Sea Monsters is supposed to be as historically accurate as possible as it follows the lifespan of an ancestor of the dolphin, Dolly, as she traverses the world’s oceans 82 million years ago.

Dolly encounters many ferocious prehistoric creatures in her travels.

‘The process of discovery and design was incredible,’ says Dubeau. ‘I really got a sense of the Earth’s ecological history.’

Dubeau conceived most of the Cretaceous period sea life featured in the 2007 National Geographic flick, but is quick to point out that he shares the award with his crew.

‘Every pixel on that screen has been touched by 600 hands,’ notes Dubeau. ‘There wouldn’t be a film without all those people who invested themselves so much in the project.’

Among those up against damnfx was another Quebec company, Studio Virtuel Concept, which created the effects on Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia from local Productions Dinosaurs 3D. Executive producer Mario Couturier describes the nomination as a push forward for the Quebec City firm.

‘It was an incredible honor,’ says Couturier. ‘We were up against Disney. We were thrilled just to be there. It was an incredible confirmation of the value of our work.’

Couturier was nominated along with Vincent Roberge, Richard Bergeron and Martin L’Heureux.

Patagonia, which, like Sea Monsters, is also rooted in science, looks at the history, evolution and extinction of dinosaurs. The documentary-style narrative follows Dr. Rodolfo Coria, a world-renowned Argentine paleontologist as he visits major dinosaur sites in Patagonia.

Being nominated for an award in Los Angeles is particularly important because many of SVC’s clients are American productions attracted to the low cost of doing business in Quebec, explains Couturier.

‘We are very competitive, because we do incredible things with much less than the big majors south of the border,’ he says.

While he was in L.A., Oscar-winning special effects veteran Ed Jones (Who Framed Roger Rabbit) told Couturier he was impressed with Dinosaurs’ production values. ‘He couldn’t believe that we’d made it with such little money.’

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