YellowDog had a ball at The VFX festival this year where, during a ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ making of talk, London, and more specifically, Soho was celebrated for being the visual effects hub of a Star Wars film for the first time ever.

Here our Jack asks why Soho? Why London? And is Soho due to retire from its mantle in a new age of cloud based production?

What’s in a name

Soho is an area located to the north of Charing Cross in London. It was, until at least the mid-17th century, open fields used as hunting grounds for gentry. In fact, my favourite theory of how Soho got its name is that ‘soho’ was the hunting cry that was used to encourage and call off Harrier dogs. 

For those who know Soho as it is today, the idea of horses galloping down Dean Street with riders yelling “soho”, calling hunting dogs out from the nearest coffee shop, is a stretch of the imagination!

 

Soho: A Brief History

For its first few hundred years of urban existence, Soho had no overall single landowner. It became a poor slice of London that attracted artists, writers, traders, and immigrants to move in: opening workshops close to their slum like homes. When I discussed this with a creative director over a coffee, he laughed that this sounded similar to how animation, flame, edit, and VFX artists (himself included) moved in to Soho during the 1990s and 2000s.

Anyway, back to history. Soho became a sanctuary for European refugees; Huguenots fleeing France and Greeks escaping Ottoman invasion (so that’s why there’s a ‘Greek Street’), along with others brought with them tailoring, theatres, and music. Pubs and halls opened to keep everyone entertained/distracted from their poverty, and whilst the wealthy had disappeared from Soho on the surface, by the early 18th century, the area now known as the ‘West End’ – the new entertainment centre of London (accompanied with brothels and the cloaked return of gentry of course) – was born.

Soho, in the centre of London, created by immigrants, but very much British. What a journey!

When you consider this rich history, it just makes sense why Soho is the way it is and why it houses the talent it does.

A shift in the times

Is YellowDog rendering Soho – and indeed any geographical place – irrelevant in an increasingly connected world? YellowDog gives studios the chance to grab more compute then they could squeeze into a single studio render farm, and some would argue that there’s decreasing need for a physical studio at all.

YellowDog is a proud Bristol business in the UK, but our Limitless Compute is placeless, and that allows our customers to be nomadic too. Pretty cool really.

VFX houses are constantly looking at international expansion or relocation: enabled partly by cloud. Are studios in Soho rightfully spreading their wings? Are they about to pick up their nest and move it out of Soho altogether? Or, more bizarrely, are they realising that they don’t need a nest at all?

 Coming full circle

Yes, YellowDog gives studios the opportunity to flourish no matter where they are: from Bethnal Green to Belfast, from Toronto to Turin, Hyberbad to Hollywood, and in some ways, that’s sad for Soho, but it is exciting for VFX and post production, and that’s the bigger picture.

But, YellowDog…or technology…won’t destroy Soho as a VFX and post production hub. I would argue that technology is its prop right now as rent prices from overzealous landlords force the hand of those whose ambition outstrips their bank balance. Creative directors and exec producers often know what they need to do to secure their next pipeline of feature VFX shots, but can’t do it because that empty 5-seat studio space next door is going to cost them £250,000 a year – before they’ve even turned on the strip light.

The beekeepers are smoking the bees out, so to speak.

I’m confident that Soho will continue to be a visual effects hub for a few years yet: not least because it embraces technology whilst celebrating its rich yarn of multi-cultural history and legacy: from all over Europe and beyond.

I’m also confident because…well…Star Wars can’t be wrong right?!

 

If we turn our back on possibility, what will happen?

In the face of Brexit, rent rises, and UK skills shortages in VFX and production, there has to be intervention to protect Soho’s next global steps.  The legacy of immigrants has made Soho; the recipe for its future will no doubt be mixed and whisked between the UK and elsewhere along with a dash of innovation and technology. So, as you might imagine, Brexit has many worried on the inside. UK government has much to do here,  and we believe that at YellowDog, we’re also doing our bit.

For those who are walling themselves in, bound by physical limitations, they may find themselves very soon in a Soho that resembles a Dystopian abyss: where unravelled boutique studios and Oscar winning mainstays become strewn across an open field just to the north of Charing Cross.

For those confident in their physical space in Soho whilst ambitious in their digital one, a cloud pipeline, be it rendering with YellowDog or otherwise, will ensure that they keep making their honey all the way to Hollywood…not matter how greedy the beekeepers get.

What do you think the future has in store for Soho?

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