Ignacio Vargas and Victor Gonzalez have every right to boast of their achievement in helping to transform the special-effects industry. Their fluid technology, which simulates and manipulates real movements in 3D using particle-based techniques, has been used in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, Ice Age: The Meltdown, Poseidon, National Treasure and most recently The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, which picked up the special-effects Oscar last month.

However, the unassuming pair are almost embarrassed by their recently elevated role in the industry. 'We originally did some research about 20 years ago into how fluid technology could be used in the film industry,' says Gonzalez. 'Our first experiment was on (James Cameron's) The Abyss (to make the water creature) but it was just fluid morphing, which is fake. It's not a calculated simulation of reality.'

But it proved there was a space in the market for such technology and so they decided to set up their own company, Next Limit Technologies, in 1998 to develop the software. 'We were basically just working out of a garage with an internet connection and a fax,' says Vargas with a smile.

They now have a team of 30 people in Madrid in Spain and a further seven working internationally at the beck and call of studio effects specialists the world over.

'We worked with (Peter Jackson's company) Weta day and night for 11 months on The Lord Of The Rings films,' says Vargas. 'They would call us up and say, 'We want to create a scene with 300 different colours or a battle scene with several actors' and we'd have to manipulate the technology to suit them.'

Both admit to being more technically astute than artistic but they have had to learn to adapt to the creative world of film, especially when directors or actors demand the impossible.

'On Poseidon, there's a scene where the actors are being chased by water. That was done several times using different layers of perfect simulation,' explains Gonzalez. 'But the director (Wolfgang Petersen) wasn't happy with simulation, he also wanted to control the water so it appeared to be rising and rising like a wave and splashing all over the place, when in fact in reality it would just flow calmly. So we had to break physical laws for him.'

Vargas adds: 'It's like with explosions. In the movies they make them seem huge with several different colours and lots of smoke. In reality they're nothing like that.'

One big scene can take several hours to calculate and so they work on different computers at the same time, manipulating shots and then making sure there are no mistakes. It is a painstaking process, but one that has brought them many rewards.

Last year they received a technical achievement Oscar for the creation of RealFlow and their new software, Maxwell Render, which simulates light, was used on The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. 'For a scene at a train station which had an entirely digitally enhanced backdrop, we were able to manipulate the lighting so it seemed real,' says Vargas. 'The film-makers could work as if they were photographers, with no need to adjust the colour or pick the shadows.'