In a massive blow to the local digital media industry, Pixar Vancouver Studios (Pixar Canada) has closed and resulted in the layoff of over 80 highly talented employees.
According to The Province, Disney spokesperson Barb Matheson said, “a decision was made to refocus operations and resources ‘under the one roof.’ Not great news, obviously. It was just a refocussing of efforts and resources to the one facility.”
When it opened three years ago to great fanfare, Pixar Vancouver was the company’s first studio outside of its headquarters in Emeryville, California. The Vancouver studio, which ceased its operations immediately on Tuesday, produced short films using well-known Pixar characters.
The following statement was released by Pixar:
The team at Pixar Canada has produced a wonderful slate of short films since opening in 2010, including Air Mater, Small Fry and Partysaurus Rex. As the dynamics of the animation industry continue to change rapidly, we continue to fine-tune our studio and its production processes. We have made the determination to refocus our creative and business efforts and resources under one roof.
Vancouver’s tax incentives and talent lured Pixar to Canada. However, with the elimination of BC HST, uncompetitive tax incentives and rising costs in one of the world’s most expensive cities, it ultimately led to the company’s short-lived stay in the city despite the renowned talent that exists.
In recent years, Ontario and Quebec’s provincial governments have increased their tax incentives incrementally to attract the same film and digital media businesses Vancouver has attracted for decades.
What might be concerning is Toronto’s rapid growth on Vancouver’s turf. In 2011, Toronto saw a 47 per cent increase in film production and in 2012 it generated $1.2 billion from its film industry – replacing Vancouver as North America’s third largest film centre or “Hollywood North.”
Once jammed film studios are now seeing huge gaps in their scheduled bookings. The experienced film crews in Vancouver are reporting less work as more productions shift their eyes towards Ontario and Quebec, where a strong industry did not exist until recently.
What is seldom discussed is how the B.C. provincial government’s indifference and inaction has not only hurt the local economy but in the process has also indirectly made the Toronto film industry more experienced and competitive against Vancouver now that it has managed to secure more major productions than the West Coast. To further compete, Toronto has also been continuously expanding its own film infrastructure even though the Hollywood film industry has spent $1 billion on building equipment and infrastructure in Vancouver.
The same trend is also seen with Vancouver’s digital media industry with large video game companies that bring jobs and huge budgets moving to jurisdictions with more favourable tax regimes – in particular Toronto, which did not have a digital media industry five years ago.
In 2009, Ubisoft Entertainment opened a major Toronto studio with the help of the Ontario provincial government. The province promised a $263 million investment spread over 10 years to help set-up the studio in addition to Ubisoft’s investment of $500 million. The company’s Toronto studio employs 800 people which compares to the 1,300 employees of Electronic Arts Canada in Vancouver’s suburb of Burnaby.
Ubisoft produces big budget video games such as Tom Clancy and Resident Evil games. This summer, its Toronto studio released its first major project titled Blacklist: Splinter Cell.
Vancouver also had its own Ubisoft studio which opened in 2009, however, it was quickly closed in January 2012 and was just one of four studios ever closed in the company’s three decade long history. Ubisoft is the world’s fourth largest video game company with 34 studios worldwide including Ubisoft Montreal – the company’s largest studio, opened in 1997, and now employs 2,100 people.
Quebec and, in particular, Ontario have been highly proactive in attracting the film and digital media creative industries to offset its shrinking manufacturing sector. However, at this rate, it will only be a matter of time before Toronto – the “centre of the universe” – truly becomes the centre of everything that was once unique about Vancouver’s economy in Canada.
For nearly 15 years, Vancouver has led the way as the country’s video game and film production capital.
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Image: Pixar Canada