GenArts Bringing Boston to Special Effects Fore with Tinder Purchase from Britain’s The Foundry

Gradually, Cambridge, MA, is emerging as one of the world capitals of a highly specialized industry: digital effects plugins for film and video post-production. These are small software packages that production companies such as Lucasfilm or Sony Pictures buy to extend the capabilities of commercial digital compositing programs like Adobe’s After Effects, Autodesk’s Combustion, Avid’s Avid DS, or The Foundry’s Nuke. One company at a time, plugin collections from companies small and large are being rolled up by Cambridge-based GenArts, which has a clear ambition to become the country’s leading plugin vendor.

We reported on GenArts’ acquisition of UK-based SpeedSix in January 2009 and Missouri-based Wondertouch in November. Today GenArts is announcing that it has acquired two more widely used plugin collections, called Tinder and Tinderbox, from The Foundry, a London-based special effects house that’s most famous today for its Nuke compositing platform. GenArts also says that it’s inked an agreement with The Foundry to make sure that new GenArts plugins work well with Nuke, and to make it easier for customers to buy Nuke and GenArts’ plugins as a bundle.

The Foundry and GenArts are rivals and exact contemporaries (both companies were founded in 1996), and Tinder competes directly with GenArts’ Sapphire plugin collection. So the transfer of Tinder and Tinderbox from The Foundry to GenArts is the rough equivalent in the plugin industry of EMI selling its music catalog to Sony BMG or Lowe’s converting a bunch of its stores into Home Depots. A pretty big deal, in other words.

Lighting effects made with GenArts Sapphire on The Foundry's Nuke

GenArts executive say their buying spree, which began shortly after Katherine Hays joined as CEO in 2008, represents the company’s effort to exploit a strategic opportunity in the special effects industry. Major film and TV production companies such as Lucasfilm are shifting away from creating most of their digital special effects in-house to using the commercial compositing programs for most effects, a changeover made possible by the growing power of graphics workstations and the growing sophistication of the commercial platforms. But for economy’s sake, says Hays, these companies don’t want to have to buy platforms and plugins from a dozen different vendors—they want to standardize on just a few platforms such as After Effects, Combustion, and Nuke, and on a common set of plugins that work on all of them.

“By building out our portfolio of products, we can offer this standardization to key customers,” Hays says. “There’s also a strong need for plugins that … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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