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Troll VFX: Modern craftsmanship from Tampere, Finland

Troll VFX is a Tampere-based VFX production house creating digital special effects and animations for many applications, including advertisements, corporate videos and film. Troll’s craftsmanship shows, for example, in the epic film The Unknown Soldier celebrating the centenary of Finnish independence.

The Unknown Soldier movie Troll VFX
Views from the film The Unknown Soldier. Troll VFX added, for example, signs of battle and a statue of Lenin to the surroundings and removed elements that did not belong in the film. The original image is below. Copyright: Elokuvaosakeyhtiö Suomi 2017 Oy.
The view before Troll VFX’s manipulation. Copyright: Elokuvaosakeyhtiö Suomi 2017 Oy.

Troll VFX is in an industry that is experiencing explosive growth. Increasing amounts of video and still images are created and manipulated digitally. More and more often, the images we see on the silver screen and TV or in magazines have been partly or fully created on a computer by a skilled artisan.

“We can start creating an image from nothing or manipulate existing material, adding or removing items. Of course, we strive for a natural result so that nobody can discern our work in the completed image,” says Troll VFX Visual Effects Supervisor Samuli Torssonen.

“Unless the image features things like spacecraft, talking animals or futuristic interfaces, of course,” says Producer Molla Karjaluoto with a laugh.

There are so many types of digital special effects for so many different applications that VFX production houses have specialised in: one creates particularly good explosions, another does well with water simulations… Troll VFX is known for spacecraft, ships and other large machines and equipment.

“You need to focus on something to master it. Naturally, we do all kinds of things, and we do for example water maybe more than other companies in Finland, but internationally we couldn’t compete with some of the top companies in that,” says Torssonen.

“And even though we are known for large things, such as spacecraft and the special effects for The Unknown Soldier, small-scale projects are just as welcome and important to us,” says Karjaluoto.

Troll VFX Särkänniemi
The set is completely digital. The actors were filmed against a green screen and inserted into a digitally created environment. Copyright: Tuotantoyhtiö Legenda Oy.

The advertisement and film industries in Finland are largely focused in the capital Helsinki, but Troll VFX has its roots firmly in Tampere. Torssonen says that he has been interested in special effects and animation since he was very young, which led to the creation of the Star Wreck series and the film Iron Sky.

“In the hot summer of 2011, we created all of the special effects for Iron Sky, and many of the people who worked on it are still with us. Troll VFX was established in 2012 so that we could continue to work in the field, at a nice workplace and in Tampere,” says Torssonen.

Troll VFX also has an office in Helsinki. The location does not matter much for the actual work.

“Information travels through e-mail links, discussions can continue on Skype and, if needed, we can quickly travel from Tampere to the customer. Our customer might not even realise right away that the work is done in Tampere,” says Karjaluoto.

Troll VFX’s network of partners in the Tampere Region includes many skilled production companies and the Mediapolis centre of storytelling and digital industries, which has facilities that may provide great opportunities for new productions in the future.

Troll VFX Finlayson Tampere
These doors open to Troll VFX’s workspace. The craftsmen of the digital age do their work in the Finlayson area, which was the cradle of industry in Tampere in the 19th century. Pictured: Samuli Torssonen and Molla Karjaluoto.

In autumn 2017, Troll VFX has a stable team of 11 people, which makes Troll a large operator on the Finnish scale, though still small on the global scale. From an employee’s perspective, our small company size means that everyone bears great responsibility for the end result and also has the opportunity to significantly influence it.

“Compared to large VFX production houses, our artists need to handle a larger area because none of us is an easily replaceable cog in the wheel,” says Torssonen.

Troll VFX’s premises also contain a few empty workstations because the industry is largely project-oriented and freelancers are often needed to bolster the team. Last spring, when they were working on the special effects for The Unknown Soldier, every seat was filled.

“This is handwork, after all. You can always use better computers and more powerful software, but in practice the only way to significantly speed up the work is to use more workers,” says Torssonen.

Freelancers are sought in Finland and abroad. There is plenty of work available for skilled people, so it is not unusual to have to fly talents to Tampere from further afield.

“We have the advantage that all foreign freelancers that we have persuaded to come here have fallen in love with Tampere and consider it a cool place. We actually receive more job applications from abroad than from Finland,” says Torssonen.

This scene from The Unknown Soldier was supplemented with pieces of an exploding tank. Copyright: Elokuvaosakeyhtiö Suomi 2017 Oy.

The Unknown Soldier came to the cinemas in late October, giving Finns the opportunity to see the latest filmatisation of Väinö Linna’s iconic novel, which has been central for the Finnish national identity.

Troll VFX has been involved in the film project for several years, starting with an effects specialist providing assistance with film design and shooting, and ending with creating the actual effects.

“The people here have been really thrilled to work on this, as it is such an important occasion,” says Karjaluoto.

“The film will definitely get attention, resonate with people and will not fade away. It is great to be involved in something like this. After this, we’ll have time to think about the future again, maybe a new Star Wreck film. One of those is definitely coming,” says Torssonen.

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