The lure of financial advantages, diverse locations, a sophisticated technical infrastructure, and a talented workforce is proving irresistible to film and television studios (see “Change in Direction” in the May/June 2015 issue of CGW.) Here we look at some of the facilities that call Vancouver “home.”
ZOIC EXPANDS FACILITY
In 2006, when Zoic was working on Battlestar Galactica, which shot in Vancouver, it set up a splinter unit to support the show, take advantage of tax credits and put more VFX on the screen. Then more series shooting in town — Syfy’s Eureka and ABC’s reboot of V, a big, virtual-set show requiring several hundred shots per episode — fueled Zoic’s fledgling office and drove the company to add more and more VFX production capacity to the Vancouver office, says Andrew Orloff, one of the founders of Zoic Studios, creative director for episodic television, and president of the thriving British Columbia office.
Zoic now occupies 14,000 square feet on two floors of The Landing building in the historic Gastown neighborhood, “a great location and super place to work,” Orloff reports.
“We have 254 employees, and none of them have computers under their desks. Terminals are connected by fiber to a co-location about four miles away, where all the rendering is done and the servers are based. So we’ve been able to use our space more efficiently. We haven’t had to do all the build-outs and cooling all that computer equipment would require.”
On the TV side, Zoic Vancouver is currently working on Once Upon a Time; the last season of TNT’s
Falling Skies; The CW’s Arrow, The 100 and the new
iZombie series; and a Disney Channel telefilm.
The company also expanded its feature division; recent credits include
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
as well as the upcoming
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II: The Green Legend.
Sony Pictures Imageworks has had a Vancouver presence in Yaletown for the last five years. “We started very deliberately, focusing on the animation department for a couple of reasons: There was established animation talent in the marketplace, we were the only player doing high-end CG features for Sony Pictures, we were in the same time zone, and animation requires a lighter footprint in terms of tech support,”explains Randy Lake, executive vice president and general manager of Sony Pictures Digital Production Services
The Smurfs was the first project in Vancouver in 2010. “Following the success of that, we added different departments. We’ve been very strategic about our growth,” says Lake. The decision to relocate Imageworks’ headquarters to Vancouver occurred when “we reached a tipping point and realized we could support all the departments,” he says. “The marketplace had changed, more and more talent came to Vancouver, and clients looked to us to bring down prices by working in tax-advantageous locations.”
The new space, which is expected to open officially on April 1, will occupy 74,000 square feet in the Pacific Centre. “We will maintain ancillary space a block away for at least the calendar year,” notes Lake. “We’ll have roughly 700 people in our headquarters and expect to add another 300 by the end of year. We have quite an aggressive timetable.”
The Vancouver move doesn’t eliminate the company’s Culver City office. “We will continue to have a presence in Culver City to interact directly with clients,” says Lake. “Artists will be able to work seamlessly with Vancouver. What’s different about our approach is that we tend to run all projects as location-agnostic. Supervisors in Vancouver may oversee artists in Culver City. It doesn’t matter to the tech pipeline where the artists are.”
Even though Vancouver is a big TV town, Imageworks intends to stay in the feature domain, Lake says. Productions under way as the company relocates include
Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass
for Disney, the animated
Hotel Transylvania 2
, an untitled fully-animated Smurfs feature for Sony Pictures Animation, the
animated movie for Rovio, an Adam Sandler live-action sci-fi comedy called
for Columbia Pictures, and an upcoming animated Warner Bros. feature.
FUSEFX OPENS IN VANCOUVER
“We are well established in Burbank, and Vancouver was a place we wanted to open an office. Our work on the new A&E series The Returned, which shoots in Vancouver, was a good motivating factor,” saysTim Jacobsen, executive producer and co-founder of FuseFX, which opened a full-scale facility in Vancouver last fall
FuseFX has a staff of nearly 100 artists, supervisors, and producers in Burbank, where it provides VFX for more than 26 TV shows and several features. It opened full-service branches in New York’s Soho and Vancouver’s Yaletown in November. The Vancouver office, 2,300 square feet of loft space, can accommodate 20 or more artists.
“Everything there will be the same as we offer in Burbank,” Jacobsen says, with full 2D and 3D departments, and an on-premises data center. “All the offices are able to support each other on projects.”
The Vancouver facility is also continuing work on Fox’s new Backstrom, says Jacobsen. “We’re also working on the second season of
Salem for WGN America, which shoots in Shreveport,
Bates Motel for A&E, and the pilot
Mad Dogs for Amazon.” FuseFX’s expansion to Vancouver netted it some shots for the final season of
“Although we have good relationships with the people at TNT and the VFX supervisor of Falling Skies, shots really couldn’t come to us in LA because tax incentives were required,” Jacobsen explains.
OLLIN FX CONSIDERS EXPANSION
Charlie Iturriaga, VFX supervisor at Ollin FX, recalls hiring from Vancouver to staff Ollin FX’s Mexico City headquarters 10 years ago. Although VFX is a worldwide business that’s territorially non-specific thanks to the ease of remote connectivity, there are still issues of security, bandwidth, and networking to consider when expanding.
So, for now, Ollin FX has hired several artists in Vancouver for the short term. “We’re running a couple of shots for
House of Cards
through them,” says Iturriaga. “
House of Cards
is 6K, so it’s been really interesting to see how to run 6K across three locations — Vancouver, LA
and Mexico City.” The company experimented with transferring shots for season two of
House of Cards
, in 5K at the time, through artists in Barcelona. But that process proved to be “much slower than doing it all in a single facility,” he reports.
Ollin FX’s Vancouver artists are also doing some shots for the sci-fi feature
, which did some production in Vancouver; its director, Neill Blomkamp, resides in town.
Iturriaga believes there’s certainly enough work in Vancouver to support a potential expansion by Ollin FX. “VFX is one of the main tools of filmmakers today, whether they’re doing small films or tentpole movies. They need a lot of people and infrastructure, so we expect Vancouver to grow and grow.”
Christine Bunish (email@example.com) is a veteran writer and editor for the film and video industry.