Scout & About: Canada 2012

Visual effects, it seems, are in Montreal’s DNA.

A couple of the most innovative and influential vfx software outfits of all time — Softimage and Discreet Logic — were homegrown ventures. Their legacy continues today with such providers as Rodeo FX, Moment Factory and Hybride Technologies.

In fact, so robust is the effects biz in Quebec’s largest city that it’s pulling back many artists who had once left for other centers, says Rodeo FX prexy Sebastien Moreau, who himself spent years working at Industrial Light and Magic in San Francisco before returning home to set up his own shop six years ago.

His chief technology officer Jordan Soles caught the Montreal effects fever too — leaving Sony Pictures Imageworks to join Rodeo a couple of years ago.

The Quebec tax credit for visual-effects work done in the province is a big factor in this boom, but so is the quality of the work being done in the city, Moreau says. “They get good value for the money they spend.”

Rodeo worked for all the major Hollywood studios, including the “Twilight” franchise, “Mirror Mirror” and “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

Multimedia company Moment Factory raised its profile earlier this year when it provide the eye-popping visuals for Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime show. It had already made its mark through its work for Celine Dion, Jay-Z and the stunt at the Coachella music festival during which it launched 1,500 illuminated beach balls into the crowd.

Moment Factory co-founder Sakchin Bessette says Montreal’s high-tech prowess is due to synergies among the city’s theater and performance scene, its robust vidgame business, and its tradition of vfx software development.

All this “makes people think, ‘Yeah we can do it!’ It makes the impossible seem possible,” Bessette says. “Like the Cirque du Soleil. If they can pull it off, why can’t we?”

Located several miles north of Montreal, Hybride celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. The studio was bought four years ago by French games giant Ubisoft, which has a major presence in Montreal.

Hybride has worked with all the main Hollywood players over the past two decades. The company collaborated with Robert Rodriguez on several pics; James Cameron came calling to complete work on “Avatar”; and “Hunger Games” lists the company in its credits.

Hollywood is not coming to Quebec just for the tax-credit savings, according to Hybride prexy Pierre Raymond, echoing many of his colleagues.

“They’re coming for the production values,” he says. “If they can get more shots without jeopardizing the quality, then they’ll call.”

Marc Bourbonnais, head of vfx shingle Modus FX, stresses that town’s shops are not dependent on Hollywood films shooting in Montreal; they’re looking to provide effects for films shot anywhere.

“Montreal has depth,” adds Emilie Dussault, head of business development at Mokko Studio, which recently worked on the “Chronicles of Riddick” sequel, set for a 2013 release, and built its rep with Discovery docu “Last Day of the Dinosaurs.”

“I don’t think people realize yet the potential that Montreal can offer.”

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