B.C. ups visual arts ambitions By Jenny Wagler
Vancouver’s fast-growing visual effects companies are winning key Hollywood business, attracting new studios to town and positioning Vancouver to become the next world centre for VFX work
As Vancouver’s visual effects (VFX) industry continues to add new players and weightier projects, insiders are pointing to the city’s potential to become the next world centre for VFX.
“London [U.K.] is the premiere place with the most big [VFX] companies; studios feel that they can put a big film in London and that London has the resources and can do it,” said Dennis Hoffman, senior vice-president and general manager at Method Studios, the latest incarnation of CIS Vancouver and prior to that, Rainmaker Entertainment Inc.’s VFX division.
“I think Vancouver is on the precipice of, over the next couple of years, having the opportunity to be another area similar to that.”
Vancouver’s VFX industry has taken off since B.C.’s 2003 institution of a digital animation or visual effects tax credit. Growth drivers have included the province’s strong film industry, a Los Angeles-aligned time zone and moves by local players such as Rainmaker and Vancouver-based Image Engine Design Inc. to expand their horizons beyond television and pursue feature film work.
Some of the high-profile work done locally includes Image Engine’s creation of hundreds of aliens for District 9 and werewolves and vampire deaths for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.
Shawn Walsh, partner and VFX executive producer at Image Engine, said the company’s staff has ballooned to 160 from 20 since the company began aggressively pursuing feature film work in 2006.
Throughout the past five years, Walsh said, Vancouver can accurately be characterized as “an emerging centre” for VFX. While he said that’s still the fair term to use, the key change is in “the scale of that emergence.”
“We have probably five times as many visual effects artists in the city working steadily now than we did in 2006, so the growth of staff has been tremendous,” he said. “And the kind of level of accomplishment, the size of the budget, the creative tasks that we’re being asked to try to achieve has all really stepped up a huge level.”
Hoffman said “tremendous” growth in Vancouver has occurred in the past three or four years.
“Every week I hear somebody else is opening a new facility up here.”
With the growth of the city’s VFX reputation, Walsh said business is now seeking out Vancouver, instead of the reverse scenario a few years back. “I’ve done far fewer trips to L.A. this year than I ever have and that’s just because we’ve been so busy on the home front, managing the work that we have,” he said. “I think there’s absolutely been a change of temperature in terms of clients really looking at Vancouver as a place that they want to bring work.”
Hoffman voiced a similar opinion. “Vancouver has become one of the primary places [studios] look at to bring visual effects now,” he said. “That didn’t exist four years ago.”
Walsh said that while there are both cheaper and more expensive places to get VFX work done than Vancouver, the city has developed a reputation for producing quality, cost-effective work.
“Vancouver has kind of hit a sweet spot right now where people feel they’re getting immense value for the money that they’re paying.”
Walsh added that the VFX market is not saturated in Vancouver, and he expects to see more companies move into the city and the ones that are already here to continue to grow.
“There’s still a lot of growth potential in Vancouver,” he said. “The infrastructure’s good, the city’s well-managed and immigration policy is still pretty positive.”
He added that he’s keen to see the local VFX industry continue to grow at the pace the city has seen thus far.
“There really hasn’t been a boom-bust cycle in Vancouver yet in VFX; there’s been a very good progressive healthy kind of growth,”
he said. “I think that’s the kind of thing that all the companies would look forward to seeing transpire.”
As to what’s going to keep driving that growth, Hoffman stressed Vancouver’s proximity to the studio heartland of L.A.
“This is just a prime location,” he said. “It has a really good base of VFX companies already and because we’re in the same time zone, studio executives – who we talk to all the time – don’t have to think about being on the phone at 6 p.m. at night.”
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