Rick Sander and his crew from Culver City-based HOAX Films are finding success by redefining the model for what a boutique visual effects design company can achieve.
LOS ANGELES—Rick Sander is Creative Director for HOAX Films, a digital production studio he founded with Executive Producer Alexis Nelson in 2010. HOAX Films provides VFX, color and finishing services for commercial, feature and web clients worldwide while maintaining a Southern California local presence.
Since the company’s launch, the creative team at HOAX Films has been working with clients as diverse as SpikeTV, NBCU and Lockheed Martin and collaborated with Britney Spears, Katy Perry and other stars on music videos.
In December 2013, HOAX Films won six W3 awards for its work on an experiential website for client MEBO international, a pioneer in regenerative science, by incorporating feature film quality VFX and animation onto the MEBO Campus site, built with the help of Conceptual Designer R. Douglas Nelson.
Here, Sander discusses his career, his goals for HOAX Films and what it takes to succeed in the visual effects business today.
Interviewer: How did you get started in visual effects?
Rick Sander: In 1993, I enrolled in a couple animation courses at UCLA and took a reel to VIFX where I was lucky enough to be hired by Star Wars alum VFX Supervisor John Wash. At VIFX, I was privileged to work for guys like Richard Hollander, Boyd Shermis, Anthony Lamolinara, Dan Kaufman and DJ Desjardin, all heavy hitters and Academy members. It was a magical place to get your career started, working on films like Titanic, Star Trek, X-Files, Blade and Face/Off.
Int: What happened next?
RS: I did the rounds at most of the big L.A. studios. It really was a Golden Age for Imageworks, Digital Domain, Centropolis, Rhythm & Hues. I was one of the first people hired at Asylum’s new CG department under Nathan McGuinness in 2000 where we were working out of a corporate apartment with the computers on kitchen tables.
After Spider-Man 2, which would win the Oscar for Achievement in Visual Effects, I took the opportunity to go overseas and spent time at WETA and Animal Logic, where I worked in look development for George Miller on Happy Feet. I think half the films I had the privilege to be a part of were recognized by the Academy, BAFTA or VES.
When I came back to Los Angeles in 2007, the guys at Gradient FX were extremely supportive as I got started supervising. The three shows I did for them were each nominated for VES Awards, and it was was a great honor to be a part of that. The experience of working with very talented, very special people gives you the confidence to take big steps.
Int: How did you start HOAX?
RS: I opened a VFX Department for Spike TV’s Deadliest Warrior in 2009, which did about 1000 shots a season. This was a daunting challenge and it needed very strong people to deliver the best work. I had worked with EP Alexis Nelson at Motion Theory in Venice the year before and asked her to join me. The following season, we started HOAX Films as a vendor to Spike TV, opened an office and hung out a shingle.
Int: How did your past experience affect how you set up and run HOAX?
RS: VFX was a starring member of the Deadliest Warrior cast and soon enough Alexis and I were involved in all phases of producing the show; from episode design and scouting to shoots and second unit to editing and color. We also helped advise other departments, like makeup, wardrobe and stunts so Spike could keep as much money on screen as possible. We learned we could really help expand the creative options for the director while controlling costs for the producer. That has been the most important development for HOAX as an asset to our clients.
Now, on all of our projects, we are usually asked to be part of the production as early as possible because it saves the production money while letting the director have more tools and options. It’s a pretty great situation for everyone.
Int: What about HOAX’s business model? How do you remain busy and successful?
RS: VFX is vulnerable to budgetary whims, which forces you to be extremely realistic about the business. When feature film VFX started to collapse in L.A., we refocused on commercial, corporate work, web, experiential media and interactive branding. When you can bring feature level work to, say, web takeover ads, clients are shocked at their new production value savy options. It’s very exciting.
Int: So what’s next for HOAX?
RS: HOAX will continue to offer our clients the highest quality creative to support their projects and stories. We’ll also continue to help guide our clients through the process so they always know what to expect and what we can do to make their project more exciting and successful.
About HOAX Films
HOAX Films is a Culver City-based digital production studio specializing in visual effects and design for feature films, broadcast, commercials and web content. The company combines top-tier creative talent, a streamlined workflow and efficient production practices in order to make studio-caliber visuals accessible to producers of independent films, television production, web media, advertising and music videos. HOAX has contributed to multi-media advertising campaigns for Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and Absolut Vodka, as well as projects for Spike TV, NBCU and Lockheed Martin. It also recently won six W3 Awards for its work on the ground-breaking experential website MEBO Campus.