LBB's Jason Caines talks the business, its origins, future and VFX secrets with Helena de Brun, Bacon's MD & Executive Producer
Bacon X is a Danish post-production company unlike any other. Based in Copenhagen, VFX pioneers Jonas Drehn and Jan Tvilling grew the company from humble origins into an internationally recognised VFX powerhouse. The duo started as workmates in a separate business and, after years of joyful collaboration, formed Bacon X to create a family of post-production experts who could help offer the industry more than traditional post houses can.
Bacon X’s founders stayed true to their vision to create a family company. The core team today is comprised of just 12 internationally experienced artists and producers, including its two founders. Although they do often work in tandem with their sister production company, Bacon, who also have offices in their native Denmark, the small scale of their workforce makes them totally unique in comparison to some of the other well-known visual effects makers based in Europe.
Helena de Brun, Bacon X's MD & Executive Producer explains how the company manages to do so much work with such a small core staff: “Our cost-efficient set-up allows our resources to work in a more dedicated way on each project than many of our competitors. On larger jobs, we are scaling up by handpicking and tailoring the perfect team for each assignment, between members of our core team and a pool of skilful freelancers and partners worldwide”.
Bacon X’s workflow may not sound much different from the usual. However, the fact that they work on 200 films every year makes you wonder whether there really is some kind of Scandinavian post-production magic behind their prodigious output. It’s a seriously impressive figure for a company with a core team of this size. That’s 16 films per person.
So what’s in a name? Does The ‘X’ stand for ‘extra mile’? It should do with the company’s non-stop rate of output. When questioned about the origins of the company’s extremely memorable name, Helena explains that there is actually more to it then we would think: “Well, X is a nice-looking letter, but it can also be seen as a word-play. And we think it somehow indicates our relation to Bacon Film Production. Like for the breakfast dish, eggs are not a necessity, but they make a hell of a difference. Furthermore, X can also be seen as the unknown value that can change an average to something unique. Not that Bacon ever makes an average looking film, but if it happened, we are ready to help out.”
The company’s creative and unique visual style is easily the most noticeable aspect of their output and they have deservedly been recognized for it. In 2012 their music video for Todd Terje single ‘Whateverest’ won the special jury award at AFI Fest 2012. Bacon has been awarded with several Grands Prix at Eurobest, Epica Awards and New York Festivals. It’s won Lions at Cannes and received a Black Pencil at D&AD for best Production Company.
Even this year Bacon X has been honored with a bronze Cannes Lion in Film Craft, and 2 silvers in Film, 2 bronze pens in The One show and 3 Silver and 2 Gold in from the Art Directors Club Germany, all for one spot - ‘Laughing Horses’ for Volkswagen.
And in 2016’s “True Award” (Denmark) their three entries received all three nominations in Best Visual Effects. Ultimately, they had to make bets with each other internally about whether our Mercedes
spot would win. There was zero competition.
At Bacon X they refer to what they do as pre-production, instead of ‘post’. They intend to make sure that before the camera starts rolling, they know what the graphics will look like and where they will be on the screen.
Helena comments on the level of detail of their input as something beyond just ‘post’ but becoming a core part of the production process which allows them to create high quality work in collaboration with their clients, not just for them.
“We don’t only offer the classical set up as a ‘post production house’ but also as the creative partner for the directors we work with, often stepping in as co-directors,” she says. “That means that we get deeply involved right from the start of a project. Thus, we achieve a deep understanding and devotion for the film and see it as our role to nurse and polish each frame to perfection before releasing it. We believe the magic happens in the creative process of filming live action elements mixing them with CG and aim for a more art infused result.”
This ‘X’ factor has seen them work with a slew of different production companies through the years. And although they’re a Danish company, they have in fact been international from the very start. Their first client was Reset, who are based in LA and some of their closest clients to this day - Czar, Propaganda and Pumpkin Films - are based in Germany, Madrid and Zurich respectively.
“We are well known in Scandinavia, but we see ourselves as a global brand since our fellow directors and clients work all around the world,” Helenaexplains. “So a normal day at Bacon X could contain work for a local spot for Copenhagen Pride, a Swedish music video to a spot for Nike in Seoul, a spot for Magnum worldwide, and a spot for a new bank in Abu Dhabi. We work on the markets our directors work, so you can say we are a bit everywhere.”
So, what takes up the majority of a Bacon X employee’s time? How much grading, coloring and VFX production do they do and what is their focus? Although they have magic skills you can’t be everywhere at once.
“On our website, we only present the major VFX projects we worked on, but almost all our grade projects,” says Helena. “Even though we work on films that don’t have any obvious VFX needs, we basically always go through each shot, adding small touches.”
Bacon X are constantly starting new projects and even their astounding online catalogue of films online is just the tip of the iceberg of the true volume of their output.
When asked about their current projects Helena says they are doing some concept work for a new Aldi commercial with Bart Timmer, wrapping up three films with Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam for Glenlivet with Martin de Thurah and also working on some new IKEA ‘Where Life Happens’ films with Martin Werner. She also mentions that further down the pipeline they will be working on Lasse Martinussen ‘s latest music video and also a Danish Road Safety commercial.
No job is too small for Bacon X and it seems they add as much value to the last project completed as the next one ahead. Helena gives a brief breakdown of some of their most successful spots in recent years: “We are of course extremely happy with our beautiful ‘Laughing Horses’ spot for Volkswagen. Our work for Magnum has been internationally noticed on a bigger scale, not to mention our work for Jack & Jones ‘Made from Cool’
Their glorious Aldi spot, directed by Andreas Nilsson uses Ancient Greek Mythology to reinvent the legends in a humorous way. “We have been working with Andreas for many years, and it’s always great fun,” she says. “Andreas usually has a lot of great ideas, and normally we get in very early in the production to develop this with him, for this one it was all about finding some characters that would add to the humor and storytelling. In the end we worked on Medusa, a skeleton band, and a cyclops, on top of adding features to the set design and some FXs”
In their Lord of the Rings-esque ‘Imaginations’ spot for Nissan, they worked with Reset and TBWA\CHIAT\DAY in LA and Martin Werner.
“It had a crazy schedule with only a few weeks of post - so we tried to be very prepared. For many of the scenes and especially for tree sequence we did CG pre-viz to figure how we could best tell the story and find out which angles would work best for the hero tree. We did look at Lord of the Rings, which has some trees that come alive, but in the end, we turned more to real old trees, and we found some really amazing references”
So ultimately what does it take to be a part of this team? A propensity for hard work seems obvious but something else must be needed.
Helena reveals the special qualities someone at Bacon X needs to make it at the company: “Passion. A big part of Bacon’s success is due to the director’s determination to always pursue the ultimate without any compromises. We often see them fight very hard, even using some of their own fee, to get the best conditions for making the best film possible. Likewise, we need artists here at X that share the same degree of passion and will work on the projects with un-compromised love and affection.”
However, just dedication and a keen eye and ability for visual effects is not enough. More is needed to make the cut.
“VFX is an art of compromises,” says Helena. “There is never enough time or money for doing what you *REALLY* want to do, so we also need artists that understand and master the task of finding smart ways solve the jobs so the result looks like we had all the time and money in the world.”
If Bacon X continues down its bright shining timeline of a future, the advertising world should pay more attention as they’ve really created a formula and a working ethos that functions perfectly.
“The world is getting smaller and smaller and we think the key to success is taking advantage of that,” says Helena. “We are constantly seeking partnerships and collaborations with the best studios and artists there is worldwide, creating a syndicate with like-minded people, to be able take on more jobs against the giant studios out there. We will never stop our vision of making highly creative films, no matter the budget.”
Bacon X seek out new talent and believe “a mixture of knowledge and creative mindset, from different generations and backgrounds, is the key to unique creative results” and “We were all students once, and we think the established companies in the market should take more action on preserving the importance of keeping the creative side of the VFX industry, and not only set up VFX factories to keep the costs low.”
In film, sometimes the skill and magic of the editor, colourist and VFX artist can be lost in the rest of the production process and Bacon X will continue to push the importance of the pre-production process at all costs. It’s forward thinking like this that will keep the company on the forefront of the post-production world for years to come.