×

Vancouver echoes with digital boom

Canadian Creativity 2012

Vancouver has long been a center for live-action shooting, but in recent years, as live production has migrated away, digital production has boomed.

Vancouver is already a rival to London, the global center for visual effects, and the local trade association for vfx and animation, DigiBC, expects an additional 2,000 digital production jobs to come online in the next year.

Many of the biggest vfx and animation companies have opened branches there: Technicolor subsidiary Moving Picture Co., for example, launched its Vancouver facility in 2007 to work on Warner’s “Watchmen” with about 30 artists. It now has about 230 artists, expects 275 within months, and expects to fill all 400 seats at its facility.

There are many similar stories. Sony Imageworks opened in Vancouver 30 months ago with 30 artists for “Smurfs” and expects to be at 260 artists by March. Digital Domain, which opened three years, has 220 artists and expects to grow to 300. Rhythm & Hues has 75 artists, on its way to around 200. Industrial Light & Magic opened a branch there in April and has 80 artists.

Pixar Canada, which opened in Vancouver in 2009, has 76 employees. The facility specializes in shorts, and made the short “Partysaurus Rex,” which will play ahead of “Finding Nemo 3D.” Prime Focus is thriving there, too, along with local companies such as Embassy and Nerd Corps.

“Warner had the global view on visual effects,” says Christian Roberton, managing director of film for MPC, “and had the foresight (to realize that opening) another center outside of London with a healthy tax incentive would be a benefit to everyone.”

Several factors have fueled Vancouver’s digital production surge.

“If the question is how did Vancouver become a mecca for visual effects,” says Digital Domain Vancouver’s head of production, Jason Dowdeswell, “the answer is ‘The Three T’s’: tax incentive, talent and time zone.”

Being on the same business hours as Los Angeles and only a few hours away by plane is a built-in advantage London and India can’t duplicate.

However the first “T,” tax incentive, is most crucial. The combination of British Columbia (33% production services credit; 17.5% digital animation and vfx) and federal Canadian subsidies (about net 8% on labor above the B.C. credits) favors labor-intensive tasks like visual effects.

“This started with some great efforts on the part of the province and the city of Vancouver,” says Rick Mischel, general manager of Sony Imageworks Vancouver. “We were looking at Vancouver, then during the Olympics they did a program to attract companies like ours.”

Canada has a history of developing animation talent, so Canadian artists got the benefit of most of the early incentive-driven hiring in Vancouver. But artists began migrating from around the world as jobs opened up.

Some vfx artists feel they haven’t benefited as much from this boom as they’d like.

One such artist, who wrote to Variety on condition of anonymity, said, “B.C. labor law is written to advantage the employer, not the employee, making Vancouver a de facto cheap labor destination. More so, the way companies divide their work between various facilities is to allocate lots of simple, menial but labor-intensive work to Vancouver to take advantage of the local level of proficiency at much lower salaries.”

There is an active push to unionize Sony Imageworks in Vancouver.

Vancouver’s global companies are also integrating their far-flung facilities into a single 24/7 global pipeline. The supervisor may be in British Columbia, but work continues around the clock, handed off from Vancouver artists to counterparts in the U.K., India and/or China.

Sending work to low-cost overseas areas, these companies say, isn’t “outsourcing” but “offshoring” — the difference being that work remains within the vfx studio, which can maintain quality while spreading tasks out to lower-cost artisans and reducing overtime — and avoiding paying a subcontractor. Producers benefit because their shots get done more quickly and cheaply.

“Our clients want us making sure everything’s delivered on time and looking fantastic,” MPC’s Roberton says. “By managing it ourselves and building our own facilities we can guarantee those results.”

Return to Canadian Creativity 2012

More Film

  • Jody Madden Replaces Craig Rodgerson as

    Jody Madden Replaces Craig Rodgerson as CEO of VFX Firm Foundry

    Jody Madden has been upped to CEO at U.K.-based VFX outfit Foundry. She steps up having been chief product officer and replaces Craig Rodgerson, who joined the company in late 2017. Foundry was bought by U.S. tech firm Roper Technologies earlier this year in a £410 million ($509 million) deal. The London-based business provides software [...]

  • The Lion King

    ‘The Lion King’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Walt Disney Pictures claims the top spot in spending with “The Lion King.” Ads placed for the remake had an estimated media value of $5.64 million through Sunday for 1,290 national ad airings on [...]

  • Beyonce poses for photographers upon arrival

    Beyoncé Releases Music Video for 'Spirit,' Her 'Lion King' Soundtrack Contribution

    Beyoncé fans are stampeding across the web veldt to get a look at her just-released music video for “Spirit,” the original song she co-wrote and sang for the “Lion King” soundtrack. The track is also included on the companion album she executive-produced and will release Friday, “The Gift.” Clips from the computer-animated film are interspersed [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez Takes Down Wall Street Crooks in New Trailer for 'Hustlers'

    According to Jennifer Lopez, basic pole dancing movements all revolve around a few foot positions. But as she tells her stripper student Constance Wu, it’s not just about the dancing. In the new trailer for “Hustlers,” Lopez and Wu swindle a number of high profile Wall Street clients in an effort to bring their white [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Writers Guild Leaders Warn Members About Contact With Fired Agents

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America are warning members about being contacted by their former agents — asserting that such efforts are an attempt to undermine the WGA and its members. The missive, sent Tuesday from the WGA negotiating committee, came with the guild in a bitter three-month standoff with talent agents that appears [...]

  • Apollo 11

    Film News Roundup: 'Apollo 11' Re-Release Set for Moon Landing Anniversary

    In today’s film news roundup, Neon is re-releasing “Apollo 11”; “Sesame Street” gets moved; “Supersize Me 2” is set for Sept. 13; Will Ropp gets a “Silk Road” deal; and Apple makes a movie deal. RE-LAUNCH Neon will re-release Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary “Apollo 11” in theaters on July 20, the 50th anniversary of the [...]

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Michael B. Jordan's 'Just Mercy' Moves to Awards Season Slot

    Michael B. Jordan’s upcoming legal drama “Just Mercy” has been shifted forward three weeks from Jan. 17 to Dec. 25 for an Oscar-qualifying theatrical release. “Just Mercy” is based on the case of Walter McMillan, an African-American death-row prisoner who was exonerated in 1993 after being convicted five years earlier for a 1986 murder in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content