Eye on the VFX Industry: Vancouver


I frequently receive calls from artists and students wondering about the stability of the visual effects industry during global economic change. A quick internet search for “vfx layoffs” turns up documents from 1997, 2001, 2003 and so on, indicating a predictable flow of company-specific downsizing and regrowth that is natural for this industry, considering the scale and ambition of most visual effects projects and the shift in the last 10 years to contract positions.

People can't get enough of movies and television, especially in a recession.  In North America during the Great Depression, film production was strong, not only due to advances in technology such as “the talkies” and color film along with widespread distribution, but also due to the underlying urge during tough times for people to escape through entertainment.   

[i]"The content of the motion picture was designed for escape, the majority reflecting the tastes of tired or jaded adults seeking a never-never land of luxury and melodrama, sex and sentiment."[/i] (1)

In 2008, in the top 20 domestic (US) box office statistics, the clear winners were VFX-driven movies [i]Iron Man[/i] and [i]The Dark Knight[/i], and animated features [i]Wall-E[/i] and [i]Kung Fu Panda[/i]. (2) The tired and jaded have spoken.

Ticket sales went up last year; Variety reports that the "Box Office Resists Recession" with domestic ticket sales rising to $9.63 billion US between Jan. 2, 2008 and Jan. 2, 2009, just edging out the previous year's total of $9.62 billion. (3)   

The Vancouver Sun reports that “[i]North Americans will drink, dance and distract themselves through the worst of it.“ Any way people can escape, they will,” says Gerald Celente CEO of The Trends Research Institute.[/i]” (4)

In Vancouver in the last few years, we've seen international companies Deluxe and Technicolor invest in Rainmaker and Command Post; Frantic Films of Winnipeg partnering with Prime Focus and opening offices in Vancouver and LA.  We've also seen an influx of companies from the US, London or Toronto opening a branch in Vancouver, such as MPC, Stargate Digital, Zoic Studios, Entity VFX, Spin VFX and Gray Matter VFX.   

Ivan Hayden, VFX Supervisor for Supernatural Season IV and President of the [Visual Effects Association of BC](http://www.veabc.com/), comments, "[i]With over 30 local VFX Houses offering up the full amenities for Visual Effects between them, and a healthy freelance talent pool that can augment any production's needs, BC is stepping onto the global VFX stage.  We are seeing more and more big budget projects looking North to take advantage of our cooperative community, skilled talent pool and tax incentives.  Our VFX community is as healthy as ever, in this regard.[/i]"

Vancouver VFX shops are now becoming first-string or lead VFX houses on films, a new trend that validates the talent and positive economic results of producing VFX in Vancouver.  [Image Engine](http://www.image-engine.com) worked on [i]The Hulk[/i] last year, and along with [i]Orphan[/i] and [i]New in Town[/i] has a major Peter Jackson produced film in production ([i]District 9[/i]); [CIS Vancouver](http://www.cis-vancouver.com) has recent credits on [i]Changeling[/i] and [i]Twilight[/i] and just received the "Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Motion Picture" award for [i]Changeling[/i] from the [Visual Effects Society](http://www.visualeffectssociety.com).   

Says CIS Digital Effects Supervisor Geoffrey Hancock, "[i]We're working on an exciting project that pushes our past crowd work to new heights. For this we are expanding into another building nearby to meet the demands of artist workspace and render farm expansion. CIS has a couple of other projects in house like Angels & Demons, Tooth Fairy, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. It's bound to be a busy year.[/i]"  

[The Embassy](http://www.embassyvfx.com) added feature VFX to their strong commercial practice by providing VFX shots for [i]Iron Man[/i]; [Frantic Films](http://www.franticfilms.com) completed Stereo VFX on[i] Journey to the Centre of the Earth[/i] and worked on [i]The X Files: I Want to Believe[/i] and [i]The Forbidden Kingdom[/i], [Artifex](http://www.artifexstudios.com) is busy with [i]Defendor[/i] and [Spin VFX](http://www.spinpro.com) is working on [i]Psych[/i] and gearing up for another feature this spring.  

VFX Supervisor & Director [John Gajdecki](http://www.johngajdecki.com/) comments, "[i]We're working on The Hole, a psychological suspense feature that is shooting in Stereo in Vancouver and LA. The VFX are being completed both in Vancouver and in LA; I'm heading up the Vancouver half and Robert Skotak (Titanic and Aliens) heading up the LA half.  We are moving away from our long-standing relationship with Digital Fusion and moving to NUKE for 2D and sticking with Maya for 3D. Also, we are the first to use the REVIEW features of Frame Cycler in Stereo Mode and are Alpha testing a new stereo projection system that is very slick indeed.  The economic recession is not felt as heavily in Canada as in other countries due in large part to sound government policies, and as always we are as busy as we need to be[/i]."    

The next few years will prove to be very interesting in all aspects of the economy and filmmaking.  Ground-breaking new technologies continue to develop, creative boundaries continue to get pushed.  No matter what the economy, a talented, committed artist can find a way to contribute.  Keep going to the movies!  







If people want to make art - they will!
Nice read, and some good links… thanks for taking the time to write it down.

Not sure this is news per se though.


It’s good to hear that ticket sales have not fallen, we should all rejoice having in mind how other industries are getting decimated. However, I doubt some of the “facts.”

The sales “growth” is 0.1% (1 out of 1000), and we are talking only US market figures here, not worldwide ticket sales. If you add the fact that average ticket prices went up by 4.36% in 2008 - see http://www.natoonline.org/statisticstickets.htm, we are talking a drop in attendance of about 3.22%, again in the US market. If we are to trust Gerald Celente (quoted in 4), attendance should have been (way) up by now - the US has had negative economic growth for the entire second half of 2008. Similarly, Canada has had negative economic growth since October. So either the recession does not translate into increased movie attendance or things aren’t bad enough yet.
If they become “bad enough” though and we plunge from a recession into a depression I really doubt we will see a big increase in attendance. The fact is that movie attendance fell big time (40 %) during the Great Depression and Hollywood survived only thanks to some drastic changes - see

If there is reason for optimism in Vancouver it has to be the weak Canadian dollar and the fact that for the moment the economy is holding better than the US economy.


Glad the banks here werent reckless, but I hate the weak Canadian dollar.
Right when I want to order something from the US it becomes cost prohibitive again.

I’ll be optimistic when Vancouver can make one or more locally conceived (and watchable) fx heavy productions, not just provide services for foreign ones and not go into panic mode when there is a US strike or fluctuation in the currency.

California, New Zealand, London, India had/have locally initiated productions.
The BC Film Commission is 30 years old and you can hardly find anything locally born and raised that is worth watching.


Thanks, whalerider, vfx and kelgy for your feedback.

Trust me, we’re all waiting for the day that Vancouver/BC can produce its own indigenous big-budget VFX movies! I can quickly think of 3 film companies in Vancouver that are hopefully headed that way, but it is slow going and they still rely on co-prods for a good chunk of their revenue (Brightlight, Infinity, Insight).

Canadian banks are conservative; that is why they are still in business unlike some other countries in the world. But, for now, we have great crews, locations and post-production and we all quietly rejoice in the film industry when our dollar is weak… makes for more film production and more foreign money injected into Canada. I know this is a bone of contention with California especially, always has been, and we’ll continue to duke it out! (I think there’s enough to go around…)

My point about the Depression era was that technological advances were happening and films were being made. We are seeing more technology pushes now (such as stereoscopic 3D production), new software packages and so on.

I didn’t realize that ticket prices had gone up in the last year in the US. In our community, they actually went down in the last couple of years. If anything, attendance stats could be down due to downloading and video rentals.

Thanks again.


Is there some special requirement for Canadian work Visas? Almost every ad I see from a Canadian company specifies that (essentially) only Canadians need bother applying.


Hi DoubleSupercool,

Many companies in Vancouver are working on TV series or locally produced shows that qualify for tax credits on labour. The tax credits are only admissable on “BC Residents”. I’m not sure, but I’ll check it out, but if you’ve lived and worked in BC for at least a year and paid your taxes, you qualify as a BC Resident.

As more companies in Vancouver are working on features and expanding their mid-to-senior level departments, and that requires hiring foreigners at times. We have alumni from Greece, Taiwan and Mexico working in Vancouver.

There are quite a few different options for Work Visas in Canada. There is the basic standard one, in which a company has to get a positive Labour Market Opinion (LMO) for their local Human Resources & Development office, then you can apply for the Work Permit. Companies can only get a positive LMO if they prove that they advertised for the position to Canadians, and that the intended foreign worker fits the requirements better than anyone else, and that they don’t have more than 10% foreign workers on staff.

There are a few varieties of Visas where the company does not have to get a LMO, but they have to still give you a job offer. See if you qualify for an Information Technology Visa:
The job descriptions are not exactly what we do, but companies have been known to “tweak” the job offer to match the qualifications.

If someone is from the US or Mexico, there’s the NAFTA Professional Visa.

Hope that helps a bit. It is probably just as tough to get into Australia!



If you are not a Canadian you need a work visa.
But it is usually pretty easy to get one, especially if it is temporary and you have a company backing your application.


The big thing with a lot of studios here in Vancouver are the requirements needed to claim tax credits. Studios need to hire BC residents to receive the full credit… And it’s HUGE dollars here. I’m lucky; I am one of the very few born-and-raised in Vancouver artists I know. From what I have heard, it is easier to get a visa here than it is in the USA though.

Nice article Gillian…! Be sure to stop by Zoic next time you guys do a tour. (I’ve since moved out of the trailer hehe)



Ahhh, I thought there might be some kind of incentive scheme in place. Obviously work Visa’s are required to work in other countries, but it usually doesn’t seem to be an issue for most jobs (unless they are short or need people immediately).

I will have to look into specific Visa’s for Aussies (like the USA). There seems to be a tonne of great work coming out of Canada and Canucks and Aussies seem to share similar mindsets :slight_smile:


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