Sep 4, 2016Press Releases

Vancouver Sun: Vancouver Animation Bonanza Rolls On, But With Push For More Proprietary Work

It was a lofty proclamation: Vancouver as the visual effects centre of the world.

But that’s what Sony Pictures Imageworks conveyed — and Variety’s David Cohen reported — on May 29, 2014 when it was revealed it would be moving its headquarters from California to a new 74,000-square-foot studio in Pacific Centre on Granville Street. The Sony move, creating the largest visual effects and digital character animation studio by floor space in the city, was the biggest vote of confidence in the burgeoning industry here.

Now rival DHX Media is ready to join the fray with a new studio the same size. Scheduled to come onboard in December, the facility consolidates this international player’s West Coast operations for its 700-odd employees.

Dr. Dimensionpants — its hit series that’s gone global — is getting new digs.

Vancouver is a global hub for animation series service — or contract — work. The talent base, favourable tax climate, West Coast-proximity to Los Angeles and low Canadian dollar are all cited as contributing factors for this creative industry hub. Local companies aren’t just producing children’s cartoons for traditional television stations or specialty cable companies anymore.

Tens of thousands of employees are contributing their bit to B.C.’s nearly $2-billion film and TV industry. On the last day of August, there were 162 postings for full time employment in animation and VFX.

The new frontier for animation activity is Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and the other rising digital broadcasters that are acquiring fresh, new programming. Animation, like film/gaming/digital entertainment, is typically a tightly controlled, high-security operation. You don’t just walk into a studio and get a tour, as many areas are under the equivalent of lockdown to protect both contract work as well as the studio’s own proprietary or intellectual property titles. The flip side of this near-secrecy is that new-show launches in the “cartoon-iverse” now mirror film openings, complete with press days.

One of those new shows — Beat Bugs on Netflix — had such a day last spring. A product of Vancouver-based Atomic Cartoons Inc., the Australian-Canadian computer-animated series is one of many new shows expected from Netflix as it expands its family and children’s entertainment. Beat Bugs’ twist? It incorporates the music of the Beatles.

“It’s pretty exciting to get a glamorous gig playing a loveable character who is a slug named Walter,” says local comedian/playwright/author — and now voice actor — Charlie Demers. “I’m the Pete Best of this crew.”

Nice work if you can get it. Given that Beat Bugs already had its second season announced before the first one even aired, it looks like a hit right out of the gate.

“There are 52 11-minute episodes broken into the 26 that went up in August and another 26 in November and they very well may be ordering more,” says Atomic Cartoons president Jennifer McCarron. “This keeps the studio busy and the industry busy. But unlike the more robust 3D business which crosses over from gaming and film, there is a shortage of 2D animator talent right now and we are addressing it by going right into high schools, universities and art colleges to let people know about opportunities.”

Last Tuesday, Atomic Cartoons received a BC Job Makers award for its efforts from B.C. Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Shirley Bond. The minister and McCarron were on hand to discuss further updates to the five-year plan for BC Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, of which animation is a key component.

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