Macedonian Artists Have Special Effect on Hollywood

Visual effects wizards from Macedonia are playing a key role in the production of a growing number of blockbusters - of which the new ‘Transformers’ is only the latest.

Scene from Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Cinemagoers know about the success of Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon, the summer blockbuster that has grossed nearly $800 million at box offices worldwide. 

But few people know that 30 artists from Macedonia were part of the movie’s special effects team.

They work at fx3x, a CGI studio in Skopje founded in 1997 by Kristijan Danilovski and Milivoje Gorgevic. And they are not the only Macedonians working on Hollywood productions.

Animator and technical director Orde Stevanoski works at Sony Pictures Imageworks in Los Angeles. He is probably best- known to Macedonian audiences as the creator of the first Macedonian 3D animated film, Levi in Love.

“While making my own films is the passion that started it all, being a full-time employee of a major effects studio leaves very little time for such endeavors,” Stevanoski says.

Since relocating to the US, he has worked on such films as Tim Burton’s 2010 film Alice in Wonderland (starring his wife Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen) Valkyrie, Speed Racer and Beowulf. His most recent project was Green Lantern, where he led a team of about 25 artists doing lighting and compositing work.

Stevanoski is glad to see Macedonian talent proving itself in big budget productions.

“I’m really hopeful that soon there will be a good climate for us to come together and work on something that is as big is the above-mentioned projects, but with the tag, ‘Made in Macedonia,’” he says.

Orde Stevanoski at the 9th Annual VES awards | Photo by: Getty Images

The fx3x studio has been involved in big name productions such as The Last Airbender and Terminator: Salvation, and cooperates with the biggest name in the special effects business, Industrial Light & Magic. But for Danilovski, the turning point was his company’s participation in The Aviator.

“For the first time, we reached the quality level of a Hollywood blockbuster,” he says. “It was a huge step for us, and opened the doors to future cooperation around the world.”

It also gave his staff a big shot of confidence. Before The Aviator, Danilovski says, they felt that “even though we are the best in this region, we are far from the quality that these producers need.”

Now, watching the third Transformers, Danilovski feels that it has the best visual effects of any movie that his studio has worked on. “Transformers movies have always been attractive to watch, but this time it is really spectacular,” he says.

“The segments that we saw in Transformers really delighted us,” says Miso Ristov, an artist and visual effects supervisor on the film. “We are proud to be part of a film that, in my opinion, is going to have at least a nomination, if not win an Oscar for visual effects.”

Visual effects artists from fx3x are the only Macedonians who have worked on a film that won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects, The Golden Compass. They also worked on the television mini-series, “The Path to 9/11,” which was nominated for an Emmy.

But Danilovski is not resting on his laurels.

“If you are not good enough for the job, you won’t work on a film,” he says. “If you do the work and the film wins an award, it’s just proof that the company that hired you didn’t make a mistake.

fx3x also worked on Terminator Salvation

“Our motto is, ‘Star performance without the star attitude.’”

Stevanoski, meanwhile, is in the thick of the star machinery. On Alice in Wonderland, he was primarily responsible for several sequences at the Red Queen’s castle, one of which earned his crew a nomination from the Visual Effects Society for best compositing in a feature film. The competition included Inception, Hereafter and Tron: Legacy.

“Working on Burton’s film was a great pleasure for me and presented a great challenge, since this was one of those films that really let the director’s vision run wild,” Stevanoski says. “Our team had to create a multitude of effects to materialize the wacky world of Burton’s wonderland vision, which made each shot a science project of its own.”

Stevanoski’s team was tasked with creating the growing and shrinking process that Alice goes through several times in the film, and creating the Tweedledee and Tweedledum characters. 

For the latter, they had to combine special effects with live action elements from Matt Lucas to create seamless creatures that preserved the actor’s astonishing facial performance while maintaining the otherworldly body shapes that Burton envisioned.

“Tim Burton was often present in our studio, although artists were constrained by company policy not to try their ‘elevator pitches’ on him,” says Stevanoski.

Asked which film has made him proudest for his creative contribution, Stevanoski says, “Alice in Wonderland was probably the biggest box office hit, collecting over a billion dollars worldwide. While that alone is not necessarily enough to make an artist proud, being allowed to shape and materialize Burton’s vision was certainly an honor.”

The honors seem likely to grow at fx3x, which currently employs about 75 people. With the exposure the studio is getting from Transformers, Danilovski says he expects to hire 30 more soon. The current staff is comparatively young, which he feels has been an advantage in learning and using new technology. 

“We were among the first companies that worked in stereo 3D,” he notes.

Danilovski is a rarity in the business, a film professional in a European country who is not looking for support from the state. In fact, he expects it will be the other way around. “We can do something useful for the country, just like tax incentives, attracting foreign film productions to Macedonia,” he says.

In the end, Danilovski is a fan, like everyone else in the audience. “My favourite part of the process is when we watch the final result of our work at the cinema,” he says.

This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.


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