When Andrew Bly, a native of Milton, Pennsylvania, was 11 years old and hospitalized for a near-fatal case of meningitis, he had not the slightest indication that he might one day found a visual effects company whose work would feature on a primetime TV show like "Damages," or the post-9/11-firefighter drama, "Rescue Me."
That is, until Bly's brother helped him recover from his illness by amusing him with footage from the family video camera, planting the seeds for Bly's burgeoning career as co-owner of The Molecule, a VFX company located in New York City, Los Angeles and Orlando.
Most recently, Bly's name, and that of his colleague, Joshua Sacavage, also a Pennsylvania native, can be found in the end credits of "Lee Daniels' The Butler," a critically acclaimed drama about a butler who worked in the White House through eight presidential administrations. The film stars Forest Whitaker in the lead role, with Oprah Winfrey and Terrence Howard in supporting roles.
Local graduates Joshua Sacavage, left, and Andrew Bly created the special effects for the recently-released film, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”
"The Butler" was released nationwide in mid-August and topped the box office for three consecutive weeks. A period drama, the film relies on visual effects - or VFX - to maintain historical accuracy and verisimilitude.
"We were responsible for helping scenes appear historically correct, creating gunshots, and inserting footage into televisions to appear as if it had aired in a certain time period," said Bly in an email of the 209 VFX shots for which The Molecule was responsible.
Initially, the company had only been responsible for 10 VFX shots, until a producer on "The Butler," and longtime friend of Bly's, was so impressed with the work The Molecule had done that it eventually became the main VFX vendor for the movie.
"We were extremely excited as we had never had the opportunity to work together," said Bly of the producer, "and he was taking a chance on us. We made sure we completed the work as fast as possible and to the absolute best quality."
That the company's hard work on "The Butler" has paid off is evidenced in the movie's critical and box-office success. As of this writing, the film has already earned more than $113 million on an estimated production budget of $30 million.
Bly said the film "demonstrates that no matter who you are or what situation you're born into, focus and determination can create a new reality for yourself," a sentiment that could just as easily apply to Bly and his rise from a young production assistant on numerous music videos for popular artists, to the co-owner of a VFX company that grew an average of 35 percent every year over the course of eight years, with a 65 percent increase in 2013.
Now 29, Bly speaks fondly of his formative education at Milton Area High School, from which he graduated in 2002. Bly credits one of his former teachers with introducing him to local companies that needed assistance with video editing, granting him real-world experience before graduating high school.
"Having guidance and encouragement from my teachers fueled my interest and allowed me to continue dreaming big. Growing up, I hated being told by an adult that something was too ambitious and simply not possible."
After high school, Bly went on to Full Sale University in Orlando, Fla., and earned an associate's of appied science degree in film production through a 12-month program. Then, at a mere 19 years of age, he moved to New York City and eventually found himself working as a production coordinator with Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys on one of Yauch's concert films.
Bly's collaboration with Yauch, who died of cancer in 2012, led to Bly being introduced to Chris Healer, CEO of The Molecule, and Luke DiTommaso, the company's VFX Supervisor. Together, they formed The Molecule after making a pact to never again work for anyone but themselves.
"Imagine three guys in a tiny midtown Manhattan room with lots of dreams and a strong drive," said Bly. "The first few months were very slow and we took any type of project we could get just to pay the bills."
Their first big break came along when a colleague of Healer's contacted the company about working on "Rescue Me," which opened the door to more opportunities including feature films like "The Butler."
The Molecule's current Office Coordinator, Joshua Sacavage from Rohrsburg, PA, found his way to the company via a different career path, initially starting out as a freelancer the company hired to solve certain types of technical problems. One such assignment included "finding a way to compress and display several video clips online to be viewable on as many devices as possible," he said.
A graduate of Millville High School, Sacavage never had a particular interest in visual effects, but had always loved technology and was able to adapt his already advanced technological and organizational skills to the specific needs of The Molecule.
Bly described his colleague as "technically inclined, a self-learner, hyper-vigilant for details and determined to complete work perfectly instead of simply getting something done," a work ethic that was present in Sacavage since middle school.
"I've always educated myself when it came to technology, which started with a laptop in 2000 when I was in the seventh grade," said Sacavage. "I made little websites and animations in Flash 5, and I started teaching myself ActionScript, Flash's programming language."
Now, Sacavage's responsibilities are much more demanding, but he welcomes every new challenge, citing The Molecule's respect for its employees and interns as key to his current success.
"I'm sure my education mattered to an extent, but mostly everything I do now was learned through on-the-job experience, which I feel is unique to The Molecule," he said. "They understand the value of teaching employees valuable skills."
Sacavage's main responsibility at the company is handling all incoming and outgoing footage.
"Everything our artists work on goes through me first and leaves the office through me as well," he said after describing the automated program he designed to make such a process run as smoothly as possible.
When talking about Sacavage's role at the company, Bly expressed nothing but praise for his colleague: "He continues to create systems that not only save us time but also include built-in checks to ensure we are processing footage exactly as we should."
Currently, The Molecule is working on the visual effects for a movie called "A Walk Among the Tombstones," which will star Liam Neeson.
The company's latest TV credit is "Blacklist," a crime drama starring James Spader that premiered two weeks ago on NBC.
When asked about future projects for The Molecule, Bly said, "We've started to create some of our own projects through our production company, Covalent. I can't go into much detail, but we currently have a deal with a top industry representative for a reality show that I created with a friend. It's planned to be presented to networks this fall."