Star Wars empire brings visual magic to Vancouver
By Jenny Lee, VANCOUVER SUN
Original article here
VANCOUVER — May the workforce be with you.
Star Wars’ Jedi, glowing lightsabers and intergalactic alien adventurers will soon be duking it out in Vancouver’s Gastown.
Industrial Light & Magic, the legendary visual effects firm George Lucas created for Star Wars, is bringing as much as one-third of the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII’s visual effects work to Vancouver.
“Everybody here is going to be very, very involved in a lot of Star Wars content over the next seven years,” ILM president and general manager Lynwen Brennan said. On the weight of the Star Wars franchise, ILM has taken over Pixar’s 30,000 square foot Gastown studios and intends to staff it with 200 visual effects employees.
“The wonderful place we’re in right now, we have 10 years of work ahead,” Brennan said. There are not only three Star Wars plans in the works, but also spin-off movies. “That enables us to not only invest in jobs but in technoglogy development and R&D.”
“We will be here at least eight to 10 years,” ILM chief creative officer John Knoll said.
Vancouver’s digital community is still reeling from Pixar’s exit last fall, but Brennan said there’s no danger ILM will leave. Pixar was looking to consolidate production in one place, whereas ILM needs more capacity, she said.
“We’re absolutely committed to being here. We’re planting very real, permanent roots here,” Brennan said and she feels “very confident” that Vancouver staff will enjoy “very long, stable” employment.
The drop in the Canadian dollar hasn’t affected decision-making, Brennan said, “because our leading tenet is talent and it is not about economics.”
Nor will any interprovincial competition on tax credits drive ILM away.
“The tax credit is certainly important in that it’s enabled this critical mass of the community to build here,” Brennan said. “If the tax credit went away tomorrow — we have no tax credit in San Franciso and we are bigger in San Francisco than we have ever been. For ILM, it’s really about talent and we found it here and we want to hang on to these people. If it was just about the tax credit, there’s other places to go.”
ILM tested Vancouver with a small office in 2011 that has already grown to 130 employees.
“They didn’t just do what we told them to do,” Brennan said. “We would sit in the dailies in San Francisco and literally be blown away. They just took it that extra mile….This is something very, very unique about the passion that folks have here.”
The high quality of Vancouver’s digital compositors and animators are particularly notable, Randal Shore, Vancouver office supervising producer said.
ILM sets up each of its studios with full capabilities rather than focusing them on separate specialties. In Vancouver, the company is particularly keen to hire creature technical directors and layout artists. Creature technical directors “rig” or set up their fantastical characters with bones, muscles, skin and animation controls which animators then work with. Layout artists match the output of computer “cameras” with film cameras so computer generated material and filmed material work in concert.
Creative supervision for the Vancouver studio will come from San Francisco. Vancouver being on the same time zone means Vancouver and San Francisco employees can review the dailies, or previous day’s footage, together.
Jobs will be a combination of contract and permanent positions. Although the business is cyclical, “the goal is to keep making lifers,” Knoll said. “There are always going to be some seasonal fluctuations as show hit their peaks and finish. I really don’t want to churn.”
ILM’s Vancouver studio will also work on Warcraft and Jurassic World.
ILM is also opening a 200-employee London studio, already has a 400-employee Singapore studio, and 400 to 700 staff in its San Franciso headquarters. London is valuable because of its strong film-making base, and Singapore is a well-placed to expand into and work with film-makers in the Asian region.
B.C.’s 600 digital media companies employ 16,000 people and generates $2.3 billion in annual sales.
ILM will be looking for opportunities for two-way collaboration with Vancouver’s training programs and would like to set up apprentice programs in Vancouver, Brennan said.
What ILM can contribute is teaching people “how to see,” Brennan said. “What brings that extra bit of realism to a shot that helps sell to an audience. There is that artistic view of things.”
There’s little likelihood that audiences will tire of visual effects. Forty nine of the top 50 box office films of all time are very effects heavy films, Brennan said. Visual effects have “an enormous effect on the movie business in general.”
Most people don’t know that The Lone Ranger had a lot of visual effects in it because they were not “in your face,” Brennan said, yet the film was nominated for a visual effects Academy Award.