L.A.-based effects company Engine Room rides the wave of ‘Soul Surfer’

Soul Surfer visual effects

The movie "Soul Surfer," which debuts Friday, tells the true story of Hawaiian teen surfing star Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a shark attack and overcame huge odds to get back on her surf board and compete professionally.

Hamilton's inspirational tale provided filmmakers a dramatic focal point for their $18-million movie, which was in large part made possible through the visual wizardry of a small L.A.-based effects company that has also managed to beat the odds amid a tough economy.

The firm, Engine Room, faced the recent challenge of having to convince audiences that actress AnnaSophia Robb, who plays Hamilton, was in fact an amputee.

"The visual effects is what made the film," said the movie's director Sean McNamara.

With just 10 employees and nearly 30 outside artists, the company did the lion's share of the 750 visual effects shots in the film for less than $1 million.

The work is noteworthy because it comes at a time when when many small to medium-sized California effects houses have been losing bids to foreign rivals that can do jobs for less because of generous tax credits available in such countries as Canada and Britain, or that can tap into low-cost labor in India, China and Singapore

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