Growth Spurt

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Animation Magazine - - Spotlight - Al­pha­bet Sto­ries

Canada’s deep tal­ent pool, ex­cel­lent in­fra­struc­ture and gen­er­ous tax in­cen­tives are fu­el­ing a north­ern boom in an­i­ma­tion and visual-ef­fects work. By Tom McLean.

an­i­ma­tion tra­di­tion in Canada and it re­mains home to a vi­brant in­dus­try.

Frank Fal­cone, pres­i­dent and cre­ative di­rec­tor of Guru Stu­dios in Toronto, says Canada’s long-term com­mit­ment to an­i­ma­tion ed­u­ca­tion and to sup­port­ing the in­dus­try with tax breaks has cre­ated a strong tech­ni­cal and cre­ative en­vi­ron­ment that few other places can match.

“Be­tween the high cal­iber of work that comes out and the tax breaks, it’s almost be­com­ing a no brainer be­cause you know you’ll get a great prod­uct when you part­ner with the right stu­dio,” he says.

Al­ready home to com­pa­nies like Nel­vana, Nerd Corps, 9 Story and Mer­cury, On­tario has seen a new hub emerge in Toronto-ad­ja­cent Hamil­ton thanks to a lo­cal tax break that at­tracted com­pa­nies like Pipe­line Stu­dios, which opened in the city in 2012. It’s been fol­lowed by the likes of Chuck Gam­mage An­i­ma­tion, Topic Sim­ple and Humi­nah Humi­nah.

West Coast Boom Town

Van­cou­ver re­mains an in­cred­i­bly vi­brant hub for the an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try, and has seen in re­cent years ma­jor growth in its visual-ef­fects sec­tor.

Van­cou­ver has de­vel­oped a very deep tal­ent pool and an ap­pro­pri­ately Cana­dian level of po­lite syn­ergy that sees stu­dios com­mu­ni­cat­ing as projects ramp up or wind down to en­sure sta­bil­ity for tal­ent. “It’s kept great tal­ent in Van­cou­ver,” says Hef­feron.

Rainmaker has tapped into that tal­ent for its cur­rent projects, which in­clude video game adap­ta­tions Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper, as well as work­ing with HIT on Bob the Builder, Mat­tel on Bar­bie and de­vel­op­ing the clas­sic TV prop­erty Re­Boot.

Rainmaker isn’t the only Van­cou­ver an­i­ma­tion stu­dio do­ing well, as shown by ev­ery­one from Atomic Cartoons to smaller out­fits like Big Bad Boo.

De­mand for tal­ent is ex­pected to grow sig­nif­i­cantly, and that will cer­tainly be good for the tal­ent pool, which draws from home grown — about 85 per­cent of Rainmaker’s work­force is made up of Cana­di­ans — but also around the world. The lat­ter may be­come a more dif­fi­cult re­source to tap, how­ever, as Canada’s fed­eral gov­ern­ment has re­cently

en­acted a more re­stric­tive im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy.

A Grow­ing Ef­fect

In­dus­trial Light & Magic has re­cently made per­ma­nent a Van­cou­ver of­fice it opened two years ago to help han­dle the work­load on Pa­cific Rim and The Lone Ranger. Then came Trans­form­ers: Age of Ex­tinc­tion and Teenage Mu­tant Ninja Tur­tles. And with the Van­cou­ver of­fice work­ing so well with ILM’s San Francisco head­quar­ters, the staff grew from the ini­tial 80 to 100 peo­ple to around 220, says Ran­dal Shore, a veteran Cana­dian VFX artist who runs the ILM Van­cou­ver of­fice.

“There’s a lot of tal­ent that grew up in Van­cou- ver and grad­u­ated from col­lege and univer­sity in Van­cou­ver and have gone else­where – New Zealand, the States, London – and they’ve grown up and now have fam­i­lies or just sim­ply want to re­turn back to Canada or Van­cou­ver,” says Shore.

ILM took over the space pre­vi­ously oc­cu­pied by Pixar Canada and is ex­pected to stay busy for years work­ing on projects such as War­craft, Avengers: Age of Ul­tron, Juras­sic World and Star Wars, Shore says.

Sony Pic­tures Image­works also headed north, open­ing in 2010 a fa­cil­ity in Van­cou­ver with about 80 artists. By last year, that num­ber had grown to more than 350 and, in May, the company an­nounced plans to move its head­quar­ters to Van­cou­ver and plans to open a new head­quar­ters ca­pa­ble of ac­com­mo­dat­ing up to 700 em­ploy­ees.

“Van­cou­ver has de­vel­oped into a world-class cen­ter for visual ef­fects and an­i­ma­tion pro­duc­tion,” stated Randy Lake, ex­ec­u­tive VP and GM of dig­i­tal pro­duc­tion ser­vices at Sony Pic­tures Dig­i­tal Pro­duc­tions, in a press re­lease an­nounc­ing the move. “It of­fers an at­trac­tive life­style for artists in a ro­bust business cli­mate. Ex­pand­ing our head­quar­ters in Van­cou­ver will al­low us to de­liver visual ef­fects of the high­est cal­iber and value to our clients.”

Car­toon Net­work, Fall 2014

After over 10 years of col­lab­o­ra­tion on skits and short films, Will Car­sola and Dave Ste­wart are on the same wave length. Which is good, be­cause not a lot of oth­ers would want to be on it with them. The hi­lar­i­ous, slightly de­ranged duo have cre­ated con­tent for Funny or Die (HBO), Pre­tend Time and TripTank (Com­edy Cen­tral), and now their lim­it­less imag­i­na­tions will be un­leashed in the an­i­ma­tion uni­verse with Mr. Pick­les.

“The way we write for our projects and come up with many of our ideas is by do­ing what we call a ‘write off.’ We both write out five or 10 ideas, only a cou­ple of sen­tences each, with the sole pur­pose of mak­ing the other one laugh,” says Ste­wart. A few fate­ful lines from Car­sola brought the sin­is­ter pooch Mr. Pick­les into the world.

“After we had the ini­tial idea for Mr. Pick­les, we started think­ing about the town and its char­ac­ters. That’s when we hit a wall for a lit­tle while, be­cause orig­i­nally, we were think­ing that the show takes place back in the ’50s,” adds Car­sola. “For Mr. Pick­les’ dark and twisted sto­ries to work, it needed to be bal­anced by a very in­no­cent and old-fash­ioned fam­ily. We strug­gled with the fact that the kind of char­ac­ters we en­vi­sioned around town didn’t fit with the ’50s theme. So we came up with the idea to have an old-fash­ioned town set in mod­ern times. That’s when our pens re­ally started writ­ing and the town be­came this place of end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

The ma­jor chal­lenge cited by the live-ac­tion com­edy vets is ad­just­ing to the pace of an­i­mated pro­duc­tion and fig­ur­ing out how to keep ev­ery­thing on sched­ule with­out hav­ing to for­feit too many ideas. “Cre­atively, Adult Swim has re­ally given us the free­dom to do what we wanted to do with the show,” says Ste­wart. “Their notes are min­i­mal yet have al­ways made the episodes and sto­ry­lines stronger when we’ve con­sid­ered them.”

De­spite tack­ling the new fron­tier of an­i­ma­tion, the long­time co­horts still just get a kick out of see­ing their ideas come to life — even if it takes longer to draw — and mak­ing peo­ple laugh … and squirm a lit­tle.

DHX Me­dia’s

Michael Hef­feron

Frank Fal­cone

Ran­dal Shore

Will Car­sola & Dave Ste­wart

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