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INNOVATE

This Is the 30-Year-Old Tech Company Behind All of Those Oscar-Worthy Special Effects

Here’s how the company has kept innovating for three decades.

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BY Nancy A. Shenker - 01 Mar 2018

This Is the 30-Year-Old Tech Company Behind All of Those Oscar-Worthy Special Effects

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

This year as stars accept their statues at the Oscars, you won't see Houdini, but know that it's there.

SideFX, a 30-year-old Toronto- and Los Angeles-based technology development company, won two Academy Awards this year for its computer graphics tool Houdini, which is used by the film and video gaming industry. Hollywood can be fickle, and tech companies are constantly introducing new techniques. Longevity is tough in business, but SideFX has thrived through most of three decades. Here's the magic behind their story.

Founder and current president Kim Davidson, who is now in his 60s, was adept in UNIX coding and loved animation. With his former partner Greg Hermanovic (who later left to form his own business) they created SideFX (formerly Side Effects) and began developing ways to improve 3D animation and visual effects in the film industry.

Today, most movies use Houdini to create special effects, including Oscar-nominee "The Shape of Water." Houdini is now considered the industry standard for creating effects involving water, natural disasters, and other feats of magic and is used by every major studio including Pixar--considered the gold standard in creativity. Just as Excel is the accountant's tool, Houdini is the go-to technology for special effects.

How did it get there?

Constant product improvement.

SideFX is continuously adding features to Houdini to meet the needs of their customers. Keeping your technology competitive is essential, especially, in an industry like Hollywood. According to the Globe & Mail, SideFX sent a team of engineers in to view a rough cut of "The Shape of Water" and figure out a specific solution to the client's special effects challenge.

Exceptional customer service.

SideFX prides itself on a customer-first philosophy and humility and, in fact, didn't hire a seasoned marketing team until two years ago. Christopher Hebert -- a marketing professional with 20+ years of experience including media, consumer packaged goods and technology -- was brought in to lead the initiative, which has focused on telling authentic customer success stories rather than marketing in a traditional sense. Hebert also invested in educational materials to help artists learn how to create with Houdini. The company invested in video equipment, travel budget to get out to the studios, social media, and workshops around the world. "Over the past two years, awareness metrics have gone off the charts, as has new customer growth and revenue," says Hebert.

A search for exceptional talent and a spirit of teamwork.

The 88-person team (largely engineers) is picked from the best and brightest in the industry. They offer apprenticeships and even have a product version that enables students to start learning Houdini while in school.

Focus,especially, during downturns.

During the early 2000s, business was tough. But research led to SideFX deciding to drop many initiatives and turn their spotlight to the movie and then to video gaming industries.

The privately-held company would not disclose current revenues but it seems to have the magic touch--both in the effects they help create and in the company's place on the Academy Awards stage.

 

 

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