Fueling Feature Film Ambitions

Oct 01, 2013

It started with an animated chili pepper bounding across a television screen. The spot, a commercial for a popular restaurant chain, was the first work produced by Reel FX 20 years ago. Today, the company’s computer animation studio is revitalizing neighborhoods and competing with Hollywood giants.

The Dallas studio is home to 350 employees, a number that CEO Steve O’Brien projects will grow to 425 by the end of next year. It’s located in the heart of the Deep Ellum neighborhood, an arts and entertainment hub for the city’s creative community. Once crime-ridden and depressed, the neighborhood has improved along with Reel FX’s studio and the restaurants and music venues that surround it. The company has a second location in Santa Monica, California.

Reel FX focuses on developing feature films and commercial work, as well as post-production for other studios. The studio has completed animation projects of all kinds, from rides at theme parks to digital effects in films and museum exhibits. “People said 20 years ago you can’t make movies, you can’t make animated films in Dallas,” said David Parrish, head of production. “We’re determined to prove that we can.”

The company’s work with a major cartoon studio was shortlisted twice for the Best Animated Short industry award, in 2010 and 2012. Their contributions to a well-known pop music video helped earn the singer a Video of the Year prize in 2011. Still, it was the studio’s dream to release feature films; a dream Bank of America helped them realize.

Reel FX had been associated with Bank of America for years through the bank’s long-standing relationship with its parent company, Bedrock Manufacturing, which also owns Shinola in Detroit. Upon learning about their ambitions, Bank of America Client Manager Matt Renna connected Reel FX with the bank’s entertainment group, which provided them a $50 million credit facility for their film fund.

The studio’s first feature-length film is coming to theaters on November 1, 2013. It features turkeys voiced by A-list actors who travel back in time to the first Thanksgiving. Reel FX plans to release a movie like this every year for the next five years, thanks in part to the bank. “At the end of the day, it’s about the relationship,” said Donna Henry, CFO. “Clearly, we’re growing. We see Bank of America growing with us.”

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People said 20 years ago you can’t make movies, you can’t make animated films in Dallas. We’re determined to prove that we can.

David Parrish
Reel Fx