Showbiz Update: Canada - The West - Film

Vancouver’s vfx and post-production sector is booming, and while locals have recently voted to phase out one of the tax breaks offered by British Columbia, the province still sports other tax incentives, not to mention a convenient proximity to L.A. and rich talent pool of artists and software innovators.

Moving Picture Co.’s head of film, Michelle Grady, says as the outposts’ reputations grow, they are being entrusted with more work. “We’ve developed the talent pool to where other facilities are seeing Vancouver as a viable place to be,” she says.

And seeing competitors move into Vancouver is a real confirmation of MPC’s strategy. “Having multiple strong studios here is essential to our ability to attract the big talent and the big movies,” she says. “Artists want to know that if they’re going to make the move to the city, they have options. And if we want the studios to have enough confidence in the city to park a large movie here, they need multiple trusted facilities that know how to work together to get the job done to the highest quality.”

MPC sees a B.C. outpost as a way to expand its capacity while offering diversity of location. “As a result, we are growing the bottom line,” says Grady. Other facilities, she notes, may be looking at it as “a way to simply adjust their international foot print, while not necessarily expanding to any great degree.” This way, they are protecting their bottom line by having a presence. MPC’s recent move to a larger facility underscores its long-term intent.

Since MPC’s arrival over three years ago, other major players such as Digital Domain, Pixar, Method Studios and Sony have set up shop in Vancouver, with Rhythm and Hues expected to open shop and strong talk that Industrial Light & Magic/Lucasfilm will open a branch. Grady is hesitant to comment on the rumors. “Put it this way: recently a government rep told me it would be shorter to list the facilities that weren’t considering opening here,” she says.

“Certainly with some of the recent announcements it is clear Vancouver is going through a vfx growth spurt and I don’t see it stopping,” says Method Studios’ senior VP/g.m., Dennis Hoffman.

The companies investing in the vfx business in Vancouver are not only major companies, but also independents like Image Engine, one of the original vfx shops in Vancouver, Grady says. “We’re seeing the arrival of Scanline. I think it’s making for a very attractive, healthy market.”

Independent vfx shops are following suit to offer the same cost-saving opportunities to clients, says Imagine Engine’s Jason Dowdeswell.

“The new reality is that (not) operating in B.C. is more of a financial risk. Hollywood studios themselves are investing into relationships by way of feeding steady work to the vfx and post businesses in Vancouver,” Dowdeswell says. “This allows for manageable growth and planned infrastructure. This is different from past years where the work in Vancouver was cyclic with many start-stops and peaks and valleys in post-production work.”

Most of the global vfx houses now have some form of presence in Vancouver, he says.

Method’s Hoffman says while a large part of the appeal is being able to provide a tax-rebate option, a key attraction is the growth in the creative capability of resident artists.

“Every two months, Vancouver Film School has a fresh wave of animation and visual- effects grads, which provides facilities a steady flow of new international and domestic talent,” says Marianne O’Reilly, Vancouver Film School’s head of animation & visual effects.

Indeed, according to Digital Domain’s head of production, Jody Madden, they employ approximately 170 artists in Vancouver, most of whom are local.

She also argues that another advantage of B.C. is being able to work with productions already shooting there. “Certain projects are intended to be kept entirely in Vancouver,” she says. Having a studio there gives them access to these projects, especially with growing interest in streamlining projects.

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