For TVO, wider
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.