Virtual production drives post-COVID boom in Canada – The Hollywood Reporter

After two years of shutdowns and disruptions, the manufacturing sector in Canada appears to be entering a post-COVID boom.

For proof, look no further than the fact that America’s streaming giants and broadcasters aren’t just returning to Canada for location shoots, they’re settling in for good with new builds of production stages, stages sound and studios.

“The fact that Netflix is ​​taking long-term leases and buying studio space, the fact that CBS has done that as well, you see large international entities seeing the value of investing in real estate to serve their productions here and pledge to stay,” says Mark Bishop, co-CEO of Toronto-based independent producer marblemedia, creator of the reality glass art competition series Soufflé on Netflix.

The boom is fueled in part by Canada’s robust VFX industry, ushering in a new era of virtual production in Toronto and Vancouver that offers huge time and cost savings for local and overseas shoots.

Production house FX Pixomondo, which has offices in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, and its Canadian partner William F. White International, rental equipment provider and studio operator, are currently planning to expand beyond Canada. , where they have four virtual production stages to serve the busy US and UK markets.

“We are expanding [in the U.S. and U.K. markets] where our customers want us to be,” said Paul Bronfman, President and CEO of Comweb Corp. and senior adviser to William F. White.

The main virtual production stage in Toronto is currently hosting filming for Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Strange New Worldsand one of the Vancouver stages is home to the enormous Avatar: The Last Airbender series.

Virtual production, which offers the flexibility to seamlessly create exotic – even imaginary – locations within the confines of a soundstage, has been a game-changer, and Canada is well positioned to take full advantage of the new technology.

Giant FX Industrial Light & Magic plans to open a new virtual production stage in 2022 near its Vancouver factory to augment its StageCraft system used in the production of the Disney+ series The Mandalorian.

“It’s a big revelation. Once people have gone through the workflow and experience [virtual production], there is no turning back. They ask why would we even do things the old fashioned way? says Mahmoud Rahnama, Studio Supervisor and VFX at Pixomondo Canada.

And Canadian artists already proficient in digital set construction and virtual art department work are now trained industry-wide to operate next-generation virtual production stages.

Toronto’s Spin VFX produced a number of footage for Netflix The Umbrella Academy.
Courtesy of Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix

Somewhere else, Dunes Visual effects house DNEG will open a new studio in Toronto after expanding its existing facilities in Vancouver and Montreal; Goodbye Kansas Studios is about to open a studio in Vancouver; Folks VFX recently opened its fourth studio in Quebec; and Solis Animation launched Crooked City Studios to produce animation content in Toronto as the industry figured out how artists can work remotely and use cloud infrastructure.

“It’s exciting to have great companies established in Toronto. Competition is not to be feared. It’s a way of life. It challenges us to do better,” says Neishaw Ali, president and executive producer of Spin VFX in Toronto, which produced a slew of footage for the locally shot film. The Umbrella Academy series for Netflix.

Jonathan Bronfman, co-founder and co-president of visual effects startup Monsters Aliens Robots Zombies – the Toronto house behind the effects for Marvel’s Wanda VisionHBO watchmen and Invasion for Apple TV+ — says that while it always makes sense for Hollywood productions to shoot in production hubs like Georgia, when it comes to post-production, Ontario’s various tax incentives offer cost savings that are too compelling to be ignored, such as provincial animation and a special an effects tax credit that offsets 18% of qualifying local labor expenditures and a production services tax credit that refunds 21.5 additional % of eligible Ontario production expenditures.

“One of our breakthrough shows was watchmen,” he says. “When it turns to Georgia, they can still come to Ontario like they did and access all [tax] credits.”

The recovery in production north of the border is also being fueled by rapid growth in sound stage construction at major production hubs in and around Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary.

Ontario Film Commissioner Justin Cutler of Ontario Creates said studio capacity in his province is expected to increase by 2.1 million square feet, or 60 per cent, over the next three years to reach 5.3 million square feet.

And to meet growing subscriber demand for streaming film and TV content, major studio markets in Toronto and Vancouver are now seeing developers invest in campus-sized facilities to house shoots for streaming originals.

The expansion is being led by U.S. real estate developer Hackman Capital Partners and its studio equipment supply subsidiary MBS Group, which is building a 500,000 square foot Basin Media Hub film studio on Toronto’s waterfront and is offering investment an additional $200 million to build a film and television production studio at the former Downsview Air Force Base in the north of the city as part of a larger commercial development.

“This opens up R&D opportunities, new technology options for producers, and new training opportunities for local crews, creatives, and producers in general to do more work in the province,” says Cutler.

Elsewhere, Prem Gill, CEO of Creative BC, which markets British Columbia to Hollywood for lucrative shoots, says his province has 121 sound stages and is growing studio capacity as private equity money pours in. local studio land operators.

Alberta’s film and TV production boom was sparked by the provincial government’s removal of a $10 million tax credit cap to allow big-budget US shoots to head to Calgary and Edmonton .

Calgary Film Commissioner Luke Azevedo said: “We are well over 500,000 square feet of space with an incentive that is now attractive to the world’s highest budget productions, which can now be in Alberta and its competitive environment. This tells us that the business here is on a growth trajectory.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Comments are closed.