Globe and Mail Update
May 8, 2009 at 1:56 PM EDT
VANCOUVER — The Hollywood studio behind landmark animated films such as Wall-E and Toy Story is setting up shop in Vancouver.
In its first expansion beyond California, Pixar Animation Studios, owned by Walt Disney Co. [DIS-N], plans to open a 20,000-square-foot studio in the fall in downtown Vancouver, hiring up to 100 people, to supplement the company's headquarters near San Francisco that employs about 900.
Feature film work remains in California. The Vancouver studio will focus on the short-form computer animation that first launched Pixar in the mid-1980s.
Pixar's Vancouver operation would serve as a springboard to San Francisco for young animators, most of whom are expected to be Vancouver locals, and will also handle work for theme parks, television and DVDs to keep alive such iconic characters such as Woody from Toy Story. The studio will produce material for Pixar and Disney.
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“We're all thrilled,” said Alan Phillips, president of Vancouver Institute of Media Arts in the city's downtown core, where about 150 full-time students study computer animation and related topics, and also has a twice-monthly seminar taught by Pixar animators.
“It is fabulous news. Vancouver's been in a bit of a slump with animation – this is definitely positive news,” Mr. Phillips said in an interview Friday.
The arrival of Pixar, the pioneer and world leader in computer animation, is a major endorsement for the city's industry, which is still reeling from this year's layoffs of 600 people at video game designer Black Box, which video game maker Electronic Arts Inc. bought in 2002.
Vancouver attracted Pixar because of provincial tax breaks for computer animation, which were introduced in 2003. Pixar also cited a strong local talent base, and proximity to company headquarters.
“Canada, and Vancouver specifically, has had terrific tax incentives for this type of work,” Pixar general manager Jim Morris told Reuters News. “I think they have a desire to grow this sort of business activity and get a critical mass. This will allow us to do more with the budgets that we have.”
Pixar has mulled its move north for some months and last fall met with British Columbia Finance Minister Colin Hansen to discuss the tax credit.
Beyond the bad news of Black Box/EA, the Vancouver animation industry has also watched Mainframe Entertainment wither. The studio once employed as many as 300 animators in the late 1990s and created the world's first 3-D animated television series, ReBoot. Mainframe was bought by Rainmaker Entertainment, a Vancouver rival, in 2006, and local animators say the company has pared back.
The Vancouver Pixar studio will focus on work that goes all the way back to Pixar's birth. In 1984, according to Pixar's website, John Lasseter–now chief creative officer–left his animation job at Disney to work for George Lucas's special-effects computer group. Two years later, that division was bought by Steve Jobs (of Apple Inc. fame) for $10-million (U.S.) and was christened Pixar. The same year, the Pixar short film Luxo Jr. made its premier and the next year received an Academy Award nomiation for best animated short film.
Pixar won its first Oscar in 1989 for the short Tin Toy. The company branched in to commercial work and it wasn't until in 1995 that the company made its major splash in the mainstream. Toy Story, a magical story of toys come to life, was the first-ever fully computer-animated feature film and became the biggest money-making film of the year, grossing close to $200-million. Pixar also went public in 1995 in an initial public offering that raised $140-million (which, the company website notes, beat out Netscape Communications as that year's biggest IPO).
Disney, which distributed Toy Story and subsequent films, bought Pixar for $7.4-billion in 2006.
The company's nine feature films also include Finding Nemo, Cars and Ratatouille. Pixar's 10th feature – a $175-million production entitled Up – is out this month.