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Visual effects company comes to Unicoi County to create effects

The crew of ActionVFX often visits Erwin’s Quantum Ascension Studios to film visual effects for movies and television. Below, photos of the crew at work. (Contributed photo)

By Brad Hicks

It has been a blockbuster summer for ActionVFX.

The crew from the Johnson City-based visual effects company recently completed a shoot during which special effects such as explosions, fire and dust were staged and filmed to create effects stock footage which will be made available to filmmakers and visual effects artists.

The majority of this shoot took place in Erwin, according to Rodolphe Pierre-Louis, founder & CEO of RodyPolis LLC, a company that offers visual effects assets. ActionVFX falls under the RodyPolis umbrella.

“Actually we had a shoot that lasted from June to the end of July,” Pierre-Louis said. “We were in Erwin for most of that shoot. We got to do some fog effects, some snow effects, dust, and then we also did some water effects where we actually built an above-ground pool, a pretty wide above-ground pool that was 21 feet in diameter, and then basically blew it up. It was really fun.”

ActionVFX was founded in 2015. The company began shooting some effects in August 2015 and, that October, a Kickstarter campaign was launched to raise additional funding for Action VFX.

“Basically in 2015, we kind of had the idea of ActionVFX, to make big-budget action visual effects elements like explosions, fire, smoke, those kinds of effects,” Pierre-Louis said.

The company’s very first shoot, before the launch of the Kickstarter campaign, took place in Chicago. However, the ActionVFX crew’s would eventually develop a relationship with the Erwin-based Quantum Ascension Studios, reducing their need to travel outside of the area for filming.

Quantum Ascension Studios is located within the former Love Chapel Elementary School building located on Love Station Road. The Unicoi County Board of Education voted to close the school in February 2013 after a large sinkhole was found on its grounds in August 2012.

In 2014, the former school property was purchased by North Carolinians Maj. Ronald Capes Jr. and his son, Ronald Capes III, with the intention of converting the building into a full-scale movie, music and animation production facility.

Pierre-Louis reached out to Quantum Ascension to seek use of the studio, and the ActionVFX crew realized quickly the Erwin-based studio would be an ideal location to complete some work as it offered equipment, a green screen and large outdoor area.

“Once we got everything funded and were ready to do more shoots, it was kind of a no-brainer to go with the local place,” Pierre-Louis said.

ActionVFX crews drop by Quantum Ascension Studios multiple times throughout the year to film, Pierre-Louis said. He added that “80 to 90 percent” of the company’s filming takes place in Erwin.

“So I would say we’re definitely pretty dependent on Erwin, on Quantum Ascension, right now to do most of the things we do,” Pierre-Louis said.

The ActionVFX library contains more than 1,000 effects in various categories, including explosions, smoke plumes, gun muzzle flares, debris, sparks, dust, fireballs, and blood mist.

Pierre-Louis said ActionVFX works with professional pyrotechnician Robert Fortner, who oversees the explosions filmed during the shoots.

“He does his part and then we do our part and, in the end, we get an effect that we’re able to add to various different backgrounds and such,” Pierre-Louis said.

ActionVFX’s products are available through its website, and Pierre-Louis said the company also gets the word out about its work through press releases posted to visual effects websites, social media and good old-fashioned word of mouth.

“Some of our clients are individuals,” Pierre-Louis said. “Some of them are freelancers, and some of our bigger clients are studios.”

And the response for ActionVFX’s work, Pierre-Louis said, has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We’ve been very blessed to be able to create products that people really love,” Pierre-Louis said. “Overall, we’re really fortunate to have a very dedicated following and they love what we do.”

Effects created and filmed by ActionVFX have been featured in shows such as “Fear the Walking Dead,” “Blindspot,” “The Flash,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” “Legends of Tomorrow,” and “Scandal.”

The ActionVFX crew’s work has also been featured on the big screen. The company’s effects were used in the independent film “Orphaned Courage,” and, in the fall of 2016, the ActionVFX crew attended film’s red carpet premiere in Lexington, Kentucky.

“It was a pretty cool event and it was just cool to see an actual finished project that used four or five elements,” Pierre-Louis said.

Some of the effects filmed during the recent shoot, which included some filming in the Gray area, will be released in September. Those not released at that time will be made available in November.

“It’s a lot of explosions, both fire explosions but also dust explosions, and, of course, we have the water effects that we’re going to be releasing which will be great for anyone that needs to blow up some water,” Pierre-Louis said.

And ActionVFX may soon return to Erwin to complete additional work. Pierre-Louis said the crew is hoping to drop by Quantum Ascension Studios in late September or early October to film some structure fire effects.