B.C. Visual Effects Overseas

Aircover Inflatables | BCBusiness
Aircover Inflatables’ air-filled greenscreens replace the painted wood and aluminum screens that are often used on film sets.

North Vancouver’s Aircover Inflatables is crossing the pond to capitalize on the U.K.’s booming film scene

Just as Godzilla left its claw marks all over filming locations in B.C., one of the local innovations used to make that blockbuster is now set to trample over Europe.

Some 400 feet of Aircover Inflatables Inc.’s Airwall system—an expansive, air-filled green screen used as the backdrop when shooting visual effects in movies—is being shipped to London, England, for The Avengers: Age of Ultron movie.

With filming tax credits recently introduced in the U.K., the capital city is booming with movie sets: North Vancouver’s Aircover says it is also in talks over the Airwall’s possible use with the makers of director JJ Abrams’s much-hyped Star Wars: Episode VII, which just started shooting there. It also hopes to pick up other gigs—including commercials—in Europe.

While shipping made it “not a huge moneymaker,” according to Dave McIntosh—one of its four inventors, who all work as grips (the lighting and rigging technicians in the film industry)—he stresses the importance of being across the pond. “London is such a great market, with a high percentage of films and in a tight, dense spot—not spread out like the States,” he adds, while reeling off other films slated for the English capital including two more James Bonds, another Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. “It seems to be going crazy.”

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As well as this boost in Europe, the Airwall is also due to be used in Batman vs. Superman in Detroit and Formula M in Vancouver, where it was also inflated for the set of Tomorrowland. “The film community is very tight and talks a lot, so we’ve never really advertised before the calls started coming in from everywhere,” McIntosh adds. “We have so much work brewing up.”

Along with fellow creators Steve Smith, Mike Kirilenko and Mike Branham, McIntosh explains that the patented reuseable Visual FX screen technology was born in 2012 out of need for a safer and more environmental way to set up a green screen. Currently, painted wood and aluminum are often used on sets, which he explains can be time-consuming to construct, difficult in high winds and are less flexible than the Airwall, which can deflate and inflate in minutes and can be transported in specially adapted 53-foot trailers.

“There have been accidents with these structures blowing over,” he says of the old way of creating a green screen. McIntosh, who prior to his 11 years in the industry was an auto and industrial mechanic, also estimates the equivalent of five or six houses’ worth of wood, for example, ends up in the landfill after every show. “Our goal was to make something that was much safer and easier, and cheaper than to actually build them on-site.”

He explains that the team has tried to outsource the manufacturing of the Airwall—which can be made in various shades and heights—but have yet to find any group that can create it as quickly. “We invented our own way of producing them where we have big moving sewing machines and we can produce 20 feet every two days,” he says.

McIntosh is unsure whether working on these movies will bring Aircover further special effects work while on the film sets, although he adds they have the capacity to work with smoke, rain and wind.

“Once you understand the system, it’s so easy,” he comments. “I don’t even like thinking about doing it the other way.”