The Yard conquering talent

  • 2023-09-12
Laurens Ehrmann, CEO and Senior VFX Supervisor and Alexis Oblet, CTO of The Yard, have been interviewed by French magazine Mediakwest about the studio expansion in Montpellier, from a strategy, technology and operational standpoint.

Learn more about The Yard in this four-page article published by Mediakwest, France’s leading magazine for professionals in the audiovisual, television, braodcast, cinema, new media and entertainment industries. The magazine shares insights on creation, technological innovations and audiovisual companies.

Laurens Ehrmann, founder and CEO and Alexis Oblet, CTO of The Yard have been interviewed about the expansion of the studio in Montpellier. They talked about the strategy of The Yard, at both business and technology level, to support VFX talent in France, the operational deployment of the activities in Montpellier and the partnerships that the studio has built with schools, creative players, technology providers and research & innovation institutes.

The article has been initially published in French in Mediakwest September/October printed issue. You’ll find below the highlights of the article in English. Have a good read !

An expert in large productions

Over the past nine years, The Yard has continued to contribute to even larger projects. The studio is renowned for its compositing, DMP (digital map painting) and digital environment work. The rendering of explosions, fire and smoke is also highly appreciated.

References abound, from major American productions such as Ford v Ferrari, Nomadland, The Gray Man, John Wick 4, Indiana Jones 5… But also streaming productions: Enola Holmes 2, WandaVision, The Rings of Power, All the light we cannot see… and ambitious French films : Albert Dupontel’s Second Tour, Mathieu Vadepied’s Father & SoldierLadj Ly’s Les IndesirablesThe benchmark is undoubtedly the reconstitution of the fire in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Notre-Dame on Fire, which has been awarded the 2023 Cesar of Best Visual Effects.

The Yard provided VFX for Jean-Jacques Annaud's Notre Dame on Fire, including fire effects in CG. The VFX work on this film was awarded the 2023 Cesar for Best Visual Effects.

Taking off towards Montpellier

The opening in Montpellier is a new milestone for The Yard. Now a reference in the world of visual effects for film and series for cinema and streaming platforms, the Vanves-based studio is growing exponentially.

Its hundred or so artists are recongized for their skills in VFX, opening the door to major projects such as The Gray Man or The Rings of Power, a series inspired by The Lord of the Rings.

We have multiplied our workforce and sales by ten. We are now in a position to choose the projects that are in line with our culture.

Laurens EhrmannFounder and CEO of The Yard VFX
VFX shots with FX and CGI assets by The Yard for Enola Holmes 2 (Netflix)
In just a few years, The Yard has become a global player in the world of VFX. As proof, the team collaborates on prestigious projects such as Enola Holmes 2, a blockbuster produced by Netflix.

Partnering with ArtFX

As demand continues to grow, the company embarks on a new phase : the opening of new branches in France, out of Paris. As a starting point, it set up this summer in Montpellier. This strategy is supported by the French government who named The Yard as one of the winners of France 2030 call for projects.

Winning the call for project offers an economic dimension, but this is not the most important part. It acts as a gas pedal. France 2030 pushed people to get together and talk, something we didn't have time to do before.

Laurens EhrmannFounder and CEO of The Yard VFX

Montpellier is no coincidence: the studio has forged ties with the Montpellier-based ArtFX school, one of the world’s Top 10 in 3D animation and visual effects.

Our partnership, the fruit of a human encounter, is quite unprecedented. We work together to improve training. As soon as we share the same values and the same culture, we find synergies to develop together. This connection is strategic, with a view to recruiting young graduates. Today, it's up to companies to reach out to talent. The young people trained at ArtFX are of great interest to us as professionals.

Laurens EhrmannFounder and CEO of The Yard VFX

The partnership consists in developing jointly training courses, master classes hosted by The Yard professionals, and the hosting of trainees. This pays off: last year, out of the the class of 80 students, around ten joined The Yard in Vanves !

Laurens Ehrmann, CEO de The Yard, est membre du comité de pilotage de l'école ArtFX et participe aux rencontres entre l'équipe pédagogique et les professionnels de l'industrie des effets visuels.
Laurens Ehrmann attending ArtFX 2023 steering commitee with the management and teaching staff of ArtFX, along with other VFX studio representatives.

Retaining talent

Montpellier therefore benefits from an « opportunity effect ». Beyond the partnership with ArtFX school, The Yard intends to drawn on the local ecosystem. The town strongly focuses on the development of the creative and cultural industry.

The choice of Montpellier is not just about ArtFX. We feel the support of the Metropole of Montpellier, of the Occitanie region and of the teams of Occitanie films. They're behind us, helping us land in Montpellier.

Laurens EhrmannFounder and CEO of The Yard VFX
The representatives of PICS Studio, Dark Matters and ArtFX with Cecile Barral of La Region Occitanie and Laurens Ehrmann, founder and CEO of The Yard VFX
From left to right: Véronique Cuilhe (PICS Studio), Jean Louis Eude (Dark Matters Solutions), Alain Guiraudon, Jacques Vienne and Sébastien Giraud (PICS Studio), Laurens Ehrmann (The Yard), Cécile Barral (Occitanie Region), Antoine Pietrera (PICS Studio), Luc Pourrinet and Simon Vanesse (ArtFX) (©naïri)

ArtFX is our partner but we have no reciprocal exclusivity. We would be delighted to welcome students from ESMA and other schools so that we can encourage more talent to stay in France ! Our country is a source of talented professionals but it's hard to keep them in France. Many leave the country to work for international companies abroad. We want to help change this. Our challenge is to retain great artists and to become attractive so that talented people come back to France.

Laurens EhrmannFounder and CEO of The Yard VFX

This means ensuring the quality of the projects on offer. Precisely, The Yard is also partnering with Pics Studio, the future mega-shooting complex near Montpellier. Pics Studio also targets blockbusters, and opens opportunity for synergies between filming and VFX production. Set in a single location, clients could benefit from greater flexibility and faster responses, during pre-production, preparation and shooting.

No difference between Paris and Montpellier

Operational since the summer, the Montpellier studio has opened with a couple of artists. By the end of the year, the studio targets twenty people and forty by next summer.

What’s special is that there will be no films or series dedicated to Montpellier. The artists will work on the same projects, following the same processes as those in Paris.

To maintain a « human approach » and an entreprenarial spirit, Laurens Ehrmann is very attentive to the inclusion of recruits.

Seniors, department heads and top managers, will be coming to Montpellier on a regular basis. We want to keep the human element at the center. Meeting people, organizing events. After Covid, many professionals need to get together to share their passion.

Laurens EhrmannFounder and CEO of The Yard VFX

The technical architecture is thus adjusted to this collective Paris-Montpellier dimension. As Alexis Oblet, CTO of the Yard explained, there is no duplication for obvious reasons of maintenance and security. The solution chosen is Teradici’s PCoIP, a remote desktop system using physical encoder and decoder boxes and boards, suitable for large video streams with demanding quality requirements. They are connected to relay servers, themselves securely linked to Paris with specialized fiber, in compliance with MPAA and TPN standards.

The advantage of a single infrastructure is that we have the same storage servers, the same applications, the same security management tools (firewall, VPN...). All information science, protocol management, exchanges with the outside world are managed from Paris. This minimizes risk by avoiding the need to open multiple vectors in multiple locations. And all this without sacrificing performance, thanks to low latency between the two sites.

Alexis ObletCOO, The Yard

Backup servers also enable multiple synchronization points. The technicians do not rule out installing rendering machines in Montpellier, to extend computing power.

At the Paris site, rack-mounted workstations are connected to the Montpellier peripherals by Teradici's PCoIP solution.
At the Paris site, rack-mounted workstations are connected to the Montpellier peripherals by Teradici's PCoIP solution.

Links with Software Companies

Via these remote computers, artists have access to the software used in Paris (Nuke, Maya, …) with a « software overlay » to improve productivity and image rendering. The pipeline is common between Paris and Montpellier. An approach in line with the logic of collective work.

Faced with the growing complexity of projects, the main challenge is « scale ».

We had to rethink everything to adapt to our customers' requirements. As we improve in certain departments, we're pushing ahead with the development of new tools, automation enhancements and our pipeline backbone.

Alexis ObletCTO, The Yard

To achieve this, The Yard has forged links with software companies. The studio is a partner of Isotropix, a Montpellier-based company, developer of Clarisse, high-end computer graphics software (set-dressing, look development, lighting, rendering…). For storage, the team chose the RozoFS solution from Rozo Systems, part of the Hammerspace group.

As Alexis Oblet comments, The Yard takes a certain pride in working with French partners, which provide performing and high-quality products. Their proximity is also a key advantage as it allows easier exchanges.

The Tools of the Future

The Yard is also looking to the future. To maintain its leadership in digital visual effects, the studio has developed connections with research and innovation institutes.

France is home to great talent in both academic and industrial research. We are thinking about a strategy to collaborate, and bring labs and studios closer by finding better ways of interacting. The point is to try to implement innovations that come out of research. And we want to be to be a source of ideas for research. This allows us, as we go along, to enrich our software portfolio.

Alexis ObletCTO, The Yard

The studio relies, for example, on Inria based in Rennes, specializing in digital experimentation, and LIRMM in Montpellier, dedicated to computing research.

An essential strategy at a time when majors are arriving in France. A key differentiator, according to Laurens Ehrmann.

Pioneers of a collective momentum

The Yard intends to open human-sized branches to bring premimum projects closer to artists’ home, while retaining a friendly spirit. A pioneer in this approach, the studio hopes to benefit from an incentive effect.

Making of the arerial views of Notre Dame on Fire, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, and VFX supervision by Laurens Ehrmann, founder of The Yard VFX, winner of 2023 Cesar for best visual effects.
VFX work done by The Yard on Notre Dame on Fire, for which Laurens Ehrmann was awarded 2023 Cesar for Best Visual Effects.

Until now, Montpellier had VFX studios dedicated to advertising, music videos, video games cinematic... We're coming up with international productions such as Indiana Jones or John Wick. We know we won't be the only studio to settle in Montpellier but the arrival of other studios is very positive as it puts the spotlight even more on Montpellier area. Artists and creatives will benefit from a larger qualitative offering, which will make Montpellier even more attractive.

Lauren EhrmannFounder and CEO of The Yard VFX

In short, a « virtuous circle » is taking shape: building the loyalty of artists, growing the creative industries in the metropolis and surrounding region… and even nurturing collaborations between studios on larger players.

It won't all be thanks to us alone, but we intend to contribute to the development of the Montpellier ecosystem. Our approach is quite similar to that of Pics Studio. They want to put Montpellier and France on the world map for film shoots. We want to do the same for visual effects. One can feed off the other.

Lauren EhrmannFounder and CEO of The Yard VFX

Montpellier is just the beginning. Laurens Ehrmann is already planning other outposts close to « pockets of talent ».

Montpellier was an obvious choice and we all want Montpellier to boom. After that, we could set up in Rennes, Angoulême, Lille... We want to show that not everything happens in Paris. It's possible, there's everything to make it happen !

Lauren EhrmannFounder and CEO of The Yard VFX


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