If you were one of the many professionals and/or students who made it out to SIGGRAPH this year, you will understand why Vancouver is the new hotspot.
A beautiful city that caters to foodies, wineos, artists, and sport nuts, it’s no wonder why this little secret is out with more and more studios starting to set up shop. In case you haven’t noticed, some of the big names like Digital Domain, MPC, Sony Imageworks and Pixar are already pretty settled in. Meanwhile, Scanline is now up and running in their new location, with Rhythm & Hues, Look Effects, and 343 Industries (Microsoft Studios) quickly at their heels getting their new studios ready to open in early 2012.(Ilm is still rumored to be setting their sights to also arrive in Vancouver in spring 2012).
However, there were already a few local studios which have been around for a while creating some great work, and a few which have changed names a few times but they still house the same crew within their walls. Prime Focus, previously known as Frantic Studios just recently completed the destruction of the Lion’s Gate bridge in Final Destination 5, while Method Studios (previously CIS, previously Rainmaker) just wrapped up on Clint Eastwood’s upcoming film J.Edgar and is in the last few months of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
The smaller boutique shops are now working on some big named films, with Image Engine wrapping up on the upcoming reboot of The Thing, and The Embassy working closely with Ilm on Cowboys & Aliens. Let’s not forget that both studios were the ones responsible for the Oscar nominated District 9.
As you can see there is a lot going on in Vancouver, but unfortunately with the good comes then bad. All the newly arriving studios have been going to Vancouver for the tax breaks and with the idea that it may be a cheaper place for labor.. But what the studios don’t realize is that Vancouver is not a cheap city. It is more on par with San Francisco prices for living, and with the USA dollar so weak, it makes the Canadian prices even higher when you convert the price of living, food, gas, and transit. The Canadian senior artist pool is also lacking, since most Canadians leave to work in USA, London, New Zealand and Australia in order to work on the big named films to build their experience and resume. This of course, makes it harder on the studios expecting to hire residents for the tax breaks and finding senior enough artists to help start the new facilities. Also, with VFS pumping out a fresh wave of animation and vfx grads every 2 months, who automatically get a 6 month work visa in Canada, about 80% of the applicants to the studios are new students trying to get into the industry. But as we all know, you cant run a studio with a non-experienced crew.. so it starts to become a challenge to offer proper pay rates to experienced talent when its cheaper to hire eager students.
Most studios also have started a very bad trend of not paying proper overtime after 8 hours and expecting the artists to be happy with low wages. Thankfully, at least 7 local studios, of note, have decided to set an example and pay proper overtime; The Embassy, Method Studios, LOOK FX, Rhythm & Hues, Scanline, Zoic and Prime Focus.. (let’s just hope the other studios start noticing.)
For those artists with their eye on Vancouver, here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to live in one of the most sought after cities at the moment:
- Studios don’t offer much relocation. They may offer the standard 2 week stay while you look for a home, but don’t expect to get too many extras for moving expenses. If you happen to be lucky enough to get some, then pat yourself on the back for your negotiation skills or luck.
- You are responsible for your own medical. (unless you have gotten a staff job at Pixar or SPI) Once you arrive in Canada, you need to get your social insurance number and have your work visa in order to qualify to get medical. Your medical is also tied to your visa.. so it will expire as soon as your visa does.
- You need to have a college degree (either AA or BFA) and will be required to show a transcript of your classes/grades as part of your documentation to qualify for a Canadian work visa.
- If you have a felony on your record, including a DUI, don’t even bother applying in Canada, you will be sent right back and denied entry into the country… even if you have a job offer letter in hand.
All the studios are located in downtown, so expect to either be working in Gastown, Yaletown, False Creek, Coal Harbour or the West End. This of course means expecting to pay 1400-1800+ a month rent for a small apartment. However, you don’t need to own a car since the city itself has good transit via the Canada line, sky train, or even buses. If you score a cool apt near the studio, then you can just walk to work.
SIGGRAPH was a huge success for Vancouver, with so many artist falling in love with the city, it’s no wonder everyone wants to call it home. Let’s just hope that the studios start following proper pay and overtime practices in order to make the city an even better place to work and continue to create more great films!