High profile entertainment tech firm plants roots in Vancouver

Post by Mike Klassen in

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Pixar Studio's "Up": innovative studio to set up shop in Vancouver

Parents know who made Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Toy Story & Toy Story 2, The Incredibles, & Finding Nemo, because parents don't mind spending time watching this kind of clever entertainment over and over again with their kids. The creator of these fine films is Pixar, the brainchild of (among others) Apple Computer's Steve Jobs.

Friday morning's Vancouver Sun front page headline boasted about Pixar's arrival to our town, and not only was it a surprise but it seemed to take the sting out of the Canuck's Game Four loss in Chicago last night (it hardly makes up for tonight's loss though). The reason is simple. Pixar has unsurpassed cachet in the entertainment business, and they have the Oscars to prove it. They are the best in the biz, they could have set up shop in a dozen other cities around the world, and they chose Vancouver as their first remote studio location.

These are the kind of bragging rights that cities will bend over backwards for. The courting with Pixar began about six months ago according to the Globe and Mail in a meeting with BC's Finance Minister:

Pixar, established more than 20 years ago, has considered options around the world and last November met with B.C. Finance Minister Colin Hansen to discuss a tax credit for digital animation and visual effects, which was created in 2003 and was set to expire. The credit was made permanent in the provincial budget in February.

According to Hansen, Vancouver was one of six short-listed cities in the running for the new Pixar operation. After a meeting with him, the Minister of Tourism Bill Bennett and Pixar officials last November, the Finance Minister promised to continue Digital Animation or Visual Effects (DAVE) tax incentives that were set to expire. He confirmed the DAVE credits in his 2009 provincial budget.

As Globe writer David Ebner puts it:

A tax break, as well as bountiful local talent, and proximity to its West Coast headquarters, lured Pixar to Vancouver to open its first shop outside out of California.

Ever since the mid-80s when Cannell Studios began its first film production in western Canada (the NBC TV series Stingray, which began shooting in Calgary before moving to Vancouver), the relationship between California's creative industries (film, TV series, and digital entertainment) has slowly evolved. In the early 90s, when Don Mattrick and his partners at Burnaby's Distinctive Software were bought by Electronic Arts, another tectonic shift took place in Metro Vancouver's economy that has had huge positive repercussions for its future.

Stingray was the first show I worked on doing day calls as a locations assistant in 1986. I eventually worked several series and became a member of the Directors Guild of Canada. Those were exciting times for the movie biz in Metro Vancouver, and nothing like the established business that film is today in the region with its thousands of jobs and local companies.

In the mid-90s I began working with Electronic Arts when they realized that 32-bit game platforms like the PlayStation would encompass masses of documentation for game features. I worked for five years as part of the team that produced the world's biggest-selling videogame basketball title, EA Sports' NBA Live. In fact, during those years our team broke new ground in motion capture and facial animation technology, among other many innovations in digital entertainment.

From the perspective of having worked in these industries, I see that the presence of another dynamic player like Pixar will only confirm Vancouver's reputation as a city of the 21st Century. It's even caught the attention of leading US industry publications, which may be a blessing or a curse as unemployment rises across the continent but especially in California.

Many of the skillsets of filmmaking & video game development cleave in the work Pixar produces. You need the brilliant minds who not only understand how to make wireframes and lighting effects reproduce reality, but to be also sublime and funny. It takes great talent, which we have in our city.

This is an enormously exciting development for Vancouver's digital development community as well as its creative class. The hundred jobs that Pixar will provide will pale beside the boost to the region's reputation.

As a commenter on this CBC article states:

This is great news for the entire city - it will bring more high level productions to town, the schools like AI, BCIT and VFS have helped legitimize the industry here by churning out great talent and we have a highly developed infrastructure - adding Pixar only sweetens the pot.

Vancouver is mere months away from courting the world's attention during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games. What the world may see when they visit is a city with its sights set on the future, and Pixar Studios will be a part of that.

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