Friday, September 04, 2009

Canadian Animation Strategies

A dozen years ago, Disney built two animation studios in Canada -- one in Vancouver and one in Toronto. They turned out hand-drawn animation for Disney's home video division, but they were short-lived production units, lasting only a few years before being shuttered.

Now, however, Canada is making moves to lure more animation production north of the 49th parallel.

... [T]ax credits offered by [Canadian] provinces reveals the same game of incremental one-upmanship that has become standard in the U.S. And, while that's a mixed blessing north of the border, it might herald even sweeter giveaways for Hollywood studios seeking to film here.

Quebec got the ball rolling in mid-June. That's when the province extended its tax credit, allowing producers to get a 25% break not only on labor costs (as had been the case previously) but also on all production expenses ....

Provincial governments are pouring money into new animation and video game studios as they look to increase high-tech digital jobs. British Columbia got the ball rolling when Disney's Pixar announced it would open a new studio in Vancouver in the fall. Pixar's move north was accompanied by lucrative tax credits and other financial incentives from the B.C. government for digital animation and R&D.

Over in Ontario, Toronto then acquired a 20% stake in the city's Filmport Studios complex to make way for Britain's Pinewood Studios Group to take control of the mega-studio, newly renamed Pinewood Toronto Studios. The Ontario government subsequently agreed to invest $20.5 million in the Starz Animation Toronto 3D cartoon studio during the next five years, to create and retain high-tech jobs locally. And Ontario then convinced French interactive game maker Ubisoft to open its fourth Canadian development studio in Toronto by pitching in $226 million over 10 years to create 800 jobs ...

To date, Canadian animation studios have not been major players in the global 'toon marketplace. A number of projects have been turned out in Toronto and elsewhere; none have been box-office chart busters.

At this juncture, Canada offers job shops to sub-contract animation, but it hasn't built any studios that turn out successful originals. And with the Canadian dollar and wage scales running at near-parity with their American counterparts, Canada will never be the low-cost provider for sub-contracted animation.

That honor will continue to be shared by China and India.

(Ontario premiere Dalton McGuinty explains Ontario's game plan here.)


Anonymous said...

very poor argument steve.

I don't look at this industry as US vs THEM like you do. I spent a great many years in L.A., under 839 and finally washed my hands at the whole thing and left during the tossing of classical artists. I have never been out of work since I returned. And everyone I know here is working too. I can't say the same for alot of folks I talk to down there.

A lot of canadian studios are major players on the global market, but I think to you the global market falls within the confines of the American border. Nelvana, Cookie Jar, Studio B, Elliot Animation, to name a few all sell globally. The problem is our content doesn't always hit the american
broadcaster but seems to sell everywhere else. So my guess is you never see half of what is produced.

Toronto studio Yowza just finished major work on Princess and the Frog. Many ex Disney/DW folks on the project and Disney came here because the talent exists. Even though I know
tons of clean-up folks not working in L.A. So who is to blame for that?

Toronto's FreshTV's Total Drama Island was number one on Cartoon Network. And this studio continues to be producing some of the freshest original content in years. Live-action is on the table there now with their first series.

And just so you know Steve, all the feature projects produced out of Toronto, The Wild, Everybody's Hero etc all were written and developed in Los Angeles, not here. They were poorly conceived projects driven on the L.A. movie model which is to figure things out as you go and throw lots of money at it. Top talent wasted on mindless projects.

Wage scales here are still less than L.A. Our dollar near parity with the US is a poor argument for a perceived lower cost. You know who isnt cheap for subcontract work....INDIA!

You keep preaching as you did when I was part of the guild, that this is a global industry, but you keep slamming us even in guild meetings I went to, because Hollywood is doing nothing to protect the very industry it created.

Don't blame us for your problems.

You continue to be blinded because you simply cannot see that the very producers in L.A. are supporting home grown work less and less.

One big happy family...but only when times are good.

Mark Mayerson said...

I'm an American who has lived in Toronto since 1980 and I have railed against the Canadian branch plant mentality on my blog and elsewhere.

Steve, you are exactly right. Tons of money is being poured into an industry that is dependent on the vagaries of subcontracting. That money should be spent on nurturing companies that are creating original properties that are successful in the international market. Canada has no equivalent of Studio Ghibli or Aardman, much to our collective shame.

The problem is not talent, as Canadian artists are successful at leading American studios. The problem is managements that are risk-averse and governments that are too happy to subsidize their small-mindedness.

I hope I live long enough to see something ignite original Canadian animation into an international success. Canada will be a very formidable competitor if it ever has the guts to get into the game.

Steve Hulett said...

Mark, meet Anon.

Steve Hulett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Hulett said...

very poor argument steve.

Acutally, I'm not trying to argue one way or the other. And I'm not slamming Canadians (though you perceive it that way) or Canadians' talent. They've got as much on the ball as anyone; Sheridan is first rate.

So I'm sorry if you took it that way. My baseline opinion is that, in most ways, Canada is a more enlightened country than the U.S. of A.

But enlightened or not, Canada is still a job shop for U.S. money, U.S. studios, U.S. networks. Why? Because the U.S. has a way larger population and economy. Therefore our gravitational pull is larger.

That's not good or bad. It simply acknowledges reality. (Just ask Bill Shatner, Michael J. Fox, Seth Rogen, Shania Twain, etc. etc. They all migrated south because that's where the moolah is.)

But you acknowledge that yourself:

Toronto studio Yowza just finished major work on Princess and the Frog.

Anonymous said...

A majority of animation studios in Canada are job shops.

So are the majority of animation studios in the U.S.

That's neither an insult to Canadian artists nor U.S. artists. It's just a fact.

r said...

James Cameron, Jim Carrey, Keith Sutherland, Keanu Reeves, Mike Myers, Dan Aykroyd...

This is a tough one: name a famous animated character created in Canada?

As a canadian animator, the state of the animation industry in Canada depresses the crap outta me.


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