Payam Shohadai and founding partner Jonathan Betuel created Luma in 2002 under the guiding principles: treat people well, quality is king, and always spend smart. The company has excelled at doing just that — providing artistic vision, precedent-setting work product and a unique culture of creativity.
"Since our humble beginnings, we wanted Luma to be a company that is artist-run. Our staff has a lot of pride in the work they do, continually innovating, and always pushing their creative limits," said Payam Shohadai, owner and co-founder of Luma.
One of Luma's inaugural projects, "Human Stain," starring Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman, brought the company its first notoriety. Luma was tasked with creating a CG environment for a series of integral "invisible effects" shots. Rather than reassemble the cast on location, green screen shoots would be arranged. Luma created photoreal environments, which cut seamlessly with other shots, filmed on location.
Over the next couple of years, Luma continued growing its credit list, picking up shot packages for mainstream films like "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," "Wicker Park," and their first foray into the "Underworld" series, for which they would become the primary effects house on subsequent releases.
From Underworld Awakening (top) and X-Men First Class (bottom)
Word was getting around that there was a new kid on the block. This attracted the attention of Kerry Conran of "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow."
"Sky Captain" was an ambitious project, as it was one of the first entirely green screen productions. "We were hungry and wanted a piece of this landmark VFX project, but we were also the little guy so we had to try and look as big as possible," notes Jon Betuel, co-founder. " Kerry really liked our spirit and enthusiasm so he awarded us the CG for the entire underwater battle sequence, for which we were going to have to grow up and grow up quickly."
In 2005 Luma experienced a growth spurt, expanding to 24 full time staffers who filled a new office located in Santa Monica. Seeing Luma's success on "Sky Captain," James McQuaide, vice president of visual effects for Lakeshore Entertainment, decided he was ready to give them a chance at being a primary vendor on a CG creature-based film named "The Cave."
As higher profile projects came the company's way, issues in workflow cropped up. Luma tackled the problem in-house; creating a proprietary program that automated and standardized common tasks, such as file naming/saving or asset creation standards. "Big Brother" was born, under the guidance of VFX artist-turned-producer Steven Swanson, and Luma could now more appropriately load balance tasks with available resources. The new project management system also allowed for the nimble Luma to punch above its weight when competing with larger VFX houses for the industry's most desired film projects. Over the years, it has evolved into a sophisticated suite of tools that simplifies and contextualizes the morass of production data, helping artists and managers alike make fast and informed decisions.
With a proven track record for delivering solid CG creature shots, Luma continued to build on its capabilities. During "Underworld: Evolution," Luma once again raised the bar for its creature team, promoting Vince Cirelli to the role of VFX supervisor, where he would prove to be a long-term asset to the development of the studio. The company also continued its growth trajectory, moving to Venice to boost its capacity up to 70 artists.
That year delivered Luma its first tentpole feature: "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," and also a highly respected Oscar-winning film and duo: the Coen Brothers' with "No Country For Old Men." The brothers and their DP, Roger Deakins, would forge a strong bond with Luma, returning for each of their next 3 films ("Burn After Reading," "A Serious Man" and "True Grit.").
From Prometheus (top) and Thor (middle and bottom)
Luma's first opportunity to work on the comic book genre came in 2009 with "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." Twentieth Century Fox also tapped Luma for the blockbuster hit "X-Men: First Class," while Marvel tasked the VFX house with creating major atmospheric effects as well as the design and animation for the mighty "Destroyer" villain in the film "Thor." Luma also provided over 200 shots for Marvel's "The Avengers," which has made over $600 million domestically.
Luma recently moved and upgraded its office facility once more to accommodate growth and enhanced infrastructure. Returning to Santa Monica, where Luma first began, the company's new facility boasts 100+ seats for artists, a motion capture stage and screening room among additional amenities.
"Ten years later, we're still doing what we love, guided by the same principles, and surrounded by a staff we care for," reflects Payam Shohadai.
Luma Pictures has over 70 credits in feature film as well as commercial endeavors.