Following its acquisition of Quantum SFX at the tailend of the COVID-19 pandemic, Strictly FX has spent its maiden year in the UK investing in people, processes and technology. “We’ve been building our team from the ground up, investing in new equipment and preparing ourselves for another year of business,” Strictly FX UK COO, Shaun Barnett informed TPi as the dust settled on 365 days of providing special effects and pyrotechnics expertise throughout the continent.
Addressing the growing demand for pre-visualisation and rehearsal rooms post-pandemic, Strictly FX UK has unveiled a space where performers and creatives can build tours and projects together under one roof in West Acton – otherwise referred to as the “entertainment hub” of London by Barnett – a stones throw from LH2 Studios, Versa Studios, Black Island Studios, Neg Earth Lights, Colour Sound Experiment and ARRI Lighting, among others. “Special effects is always the last one invited to the party so we thought we’d change the narrative and have the party here,” Barnett said.
From render to reality, pre-visualisations can be churned out of two state-of-the-art studio pods in front of the eyes of clients and performing artists, and then built in real-time in the room next door. “This space is exactly how I envisaged it,” Barnett said. “We’ve got a ground support system with two tonne weight limits, so theoretically, you could build a mini rig for production designers to construct in real-time, as opposed to solely on screen.”
Over the past year, the space has been used for music video and film shoots, as well as a space for choreography. “Eventually, the rehearsal room and previsualisation suites will be interlinked with a camera and sound feeds in each pod and a live link, so prospective crews can communicate with each other, regardless of the room they’re in. We’ve got some LDs currently using the pre-vis suites, so we’ll see how it grows.”
The unit has also been used to train the next-generation of special effects and pyro crew chiefs, with in-house training sessions held for jobseekers from underprivileged backgrounds as well as Strictly FX’s company wide mission to employ more individuals from underrepresented gender and ethnic groups.
Having supplied SFX and pyrotechnics to Coldplay, Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Kendrick Lamar, Biffy Clyro, Four Tet, and Marshmallow, among other big names during its first year of business, Barnett was optimistic about the future. “We knew it was going to be busy when COVID-19 restrictions on live events eased, however, I don’t think we were quite prepared for the sheer demand. It’s a testament to the team to be able to pull these big shows off while being short on personnel and equipment.”
Despite the knock-on effect of universal material shortages and longer lead times, like most sectors, Strictly FX UK’s in-house R&D and engineering department will open the firm up to supplying theatre and one-off special effect projects, in addition to festivals, television shoots, and tours. “We have a team of 12 full time members of staff at the moment, but we are on the hunt to find new talent,” Barnett remarked. Unbelievably, Strictly FX UK have pulled off some of live music’s biggest shows over the summer with just a team of five.
With its Wiltshire warehouse “bulging at the seams”, Strictly FX UK are also looking to further invest in a 30,000 square foot warehouse closer to the M4. “One of Quantum SFX’s USPs was to provide innovation and new effects that audiences hadn’t seen before, so we plan on debuting a host of new effects six months after we open our doors to the new space,” Barnett said.
“This past year has been equal parts challenging and inspiring. We’re already preparing for the year ahead with a substantial shipment of new lasers arriving soon. At this moment in time, we are still operating as a blank canvas, so no idea is off the table,” he concluded. “Watch this space.”