After Google buy, special effects shop Zero VFX cooking up more software

Zero VFX co-founders Sean Devereaux and Brian Drewes on the set of the soon-to-be-released boxing film, Southpaw. (Courtesy Zero VFX.)
Zero VFX co-founders Sean Devereaux and Brian Drewes on the set of the soon-to-be-released boxing film, Southpaw. (Courtesy Zero VFX.)

It was a surprising acquisition by Google that happened in the thick of vacation season last August: the Silicon Valley giant picked up Zync Render, a software tool developed in Boston that makes it easier and cheaper to use cloud data processing services to produce special effects for movies or TV commercials. Zync Render had been created by a team at Zero VFX, a special effects shop that has worked on movies like “American Hustle” and “The Equalizer.” And now the parent company that spawned Zync is planning on a sequel.

Zero VFX has grown to about 55 employees, and has lately been working on films like “Unfinished Business” (starring Vince Vaughn) and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” (Kevin James), both due out this year. Co-founder and head of production Brian Drewes says that the firm has created a new division, Code Zero Software, “to create software that deals with the problems people run into when creating visual images. These will be rapidly-evolving tools that can get tested by our production team, with the idea of pivoting out toward the consumer market.”

Code Zero, Drewes explains, “is its own division with its own people,” though it is located in the same Park Square digs as Zero VFX. Already, Code Zero has created a tool called Compression Preview, for use with Adobe’s After Effects software, that allows users to see the impact that various kinds of image compression will have before they start exporting their own images. Drewes says there are “a couple more” ideas in the pipeline. And while Zync was a tool geared to special effects professionals, he says that Code Zero will tilt a bit more toward making software for consumers and “prosumers” (more sophisticated consumer users and freelancers.)

A benefit to having Code Zero and Zero VFX employees working in the same offices, says co-founder Sean Devereaux, is “if there’s somebody writing tools for a specific production Zero is working on, they’re located right next to that team. You can iterate so quickly. When someone says, ‘I wish that the software did this,’ the developer can go back and make it do that.” Zero VFX recently leased another 3500 square feet of office space in its Columbus Avenue building, which houses several other media-related companies.

When Google acquired Zync last year, that product and a handful of Zync employees went to work for Google in Cambridge and Silicon Valley. (Drewes says it was fewer than 10 people.) While the Zync software originally made use of Amazon Web Services for rendering, it now connects to Google’s Cloud Platform.

Some of the proceeds of the Zync sale are supporting the startup phase of Code Zero, Drewes says. But the new division may seek outside funding to develop certain products or spin them out as their own entities, he says.

I wrote about Zero VFX and their work on the Oscar-nominated drama “American Hustle” last February.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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