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Cinesite’s New Montreal Mega-Animation Studio Will Employ 500 and Produce 9 Features, Including ‘Klaus’

VFX/animation studio Cinesite transformed the North American feature landscape yesterday with announcement that they are building a major new studio in Montreal, Canada, a significant boon to the city’s burgeoning feature animation scene.

The studio’s debut project, the first of nine films, will be Sergio Pablos’s Klaus, which had its exclusive trailer debut on Cartoon Brew last spring.

To embark on its ambitious feature animation plans, the UK-headquartered Cinesite, which recently acquired Vancouver-based vfx shop Image Engine, has opened a 54,000-square-feet animation studio in downtown Montreal. The new facility will have the capacity for 500 permanent staff.

“Our government supports this project’s realization, which will promote the advancement in Quebec of a leading-edge expertise in the production of animated films, a rapidly growing field at the moment,” stated Philippe Couillard, the Premier of Quebec, at yesterday’s studio opening. “In doing this, my government is actively working to increase the competitiveness of Montreal. This investment acknowledges the talent, creativity and quality of Quebec’s labor force and the importance of Montreal as a world player in this industry.”

Canada’s Quebec government, through its Investissement Quebec arm, is advancing a loan of C$2.4 million (US$1.7M) to Cinesite to assist the studio in setting up its production infrastructure. The government is also advancing an additional loan guarantee of C$19.6M (US$14.1M) to Cinesite to bolster the company’s own investment of at least C$90M (US$64.9M) for the production of its first three films.

When the studio is operating at full capacity in 2020, Cinesite intends to employ 500 full-time staffers. To put that into perspective, the deal allows Cinesite to increase its animation/vfx capacity by 100%, or essentially double its global workforce.

Cinesite has been angling to supplement their vfx business, including work on films like The Revenant, Iron Man 3, and the Harry Potter series, with entry into the more lucrative feature animation market, where they have a better shot of developing and owning intellectual property. In 2014, they announced production on a feature called Charming, which is being directed by Ross Venokur, with animation direction by veteran Disney Feature animator Jason Ryan. That film, however, will not count toward the nine upcoming features, as it is part of an existing four-film deal with 3QU Media, a company co-founded by Shrek producer John H. Williams.

“Drawing on the sophisticated techniques developed over the last 20 years in the visual effects industry, we wanted to build a new creative home for the world’s best storytellers, writers, directors and animators,” said Eamonn Butler, Cinesite’s head of animation. “Whether you are an established filmmaker or an emerging writer, we want you to think of our studio as a new destination where your work can be nurtured and flourish.”

New content will be developed through Cinesite’s own content creation and intellectual property arm, Comic Animations. For the announced Klaus project, Comic Animations will work with Pablos’ SPA Studios and Atresmedia Cine to co-produce the film in Montreal.

Pablos, who is not only a revered classical animator but also came up with the original idea for Despicable Me, is attached to write and direct Klaus, and Jinko Gotoh, who has produced in various capacities on The Little Prince, The Illusionist, and Finding Nemo, will produce. The project will be a treaty co-production with Spain.

“Working with like-minded people who have a can-do attitude and respect the creative talent and process, coupled with Cinesite’s amazing new facility, the decision to come to Montreal was made very easy,” said Sergio Pablos in a statement.

Comic Animations is also working with Dublin-based River Productions to develop an animated feature that takes its inspiration from the 1990s Irish dance craze Riverdance. Few details are available, but Bill Whelan’s Riverdance music will be used in the film.

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  • J

    This is great and all, I’ll be glad to see Klaus, but don’t people remember what happened to 38 Studios in Rhode Island or Digital Domain in Florda when the government got heavily involved in the entertainment business? This makes it even harder for Canadian studios to keep their top talent as their animators suddenly leave for offers by foreign companies that have set up in their backyard. It’s either that, or Canadian taxpayers will be footing the bill for a lot of temporary foreign workers.

    • Steve Kaplan

      Canadian taxpayers are already paying for work performed by “a lot of temporary foreign workers”. That is kind of baked into the Tax Incentive cake, isn’t it?

      • Phil M

        Monopoly on maple syrup trade offsets tax revenue loss from the sexier entertainment subsidies.

    • DanK7

      Agreements such as these usually have some sort of stipulation requiring Canadian citizenship or a permanent residence status; At least for tv animation in Canada. Also, Québec has made similar agreements in the past for the gaming industry. Montréal is now full of well established, top-tier gaming studios.

    • MonsieurU

      With all due respect, these “temporary foreign workers” do have to live in Montreal during the production. They have to pay rent, food, clothing, entertainment and whatever else they may need. So that money isn’t just spent by the government, some of it (most of it, probably) will be spent in Canada.
      Anyway I’m very happy that Klaus is moving forward.

    • Phil M

      Uhh….one reason why foreign studios open satellites in Canada is because they can pay the same rate as Canadian studios…or lower. People would really only pick a non-Canadian studio if it has a glamorous appeal like the defunct Pixar Canada one.

  • Strong Enough

    i would love to be an animator but canada is too cold.

    • DanK7

      Nonsense. Wear a warmer coat, and tuque.

      • Strong Enough

        no. living in Cold Canada is nonsense

        • DanK7

          Clearly not strong enough for it then :P (I’m kidding, relax)

          • Strong Enough

            clearly

  • GW

    It worked for Soyuzmultfilm until they crashed and burned when they ran out of state funding after the Soviet Union dissolved. Russia still doesn’t have enough movie theaters relative to its population. I am optimistic that in this case the studio won’t run out of funding due to blatant stupidity like Digital Domain. Surely they’ll learn their lesson. But in the long run every studio either needs a great vision or they’ll have to sell out like Toei or Disney. Even Studio Ghibli is having trouble staying afloat without Hayao Miyazaki’s name to sell tickets. I’m eagerly anticipating what movies they’ll come up with in their unique situation. I’m surprised that there aren’t more comments because this is what the hand drawn animation crowd wanted.

  • Kyle_Maloney

    I doubt they’ll make it that far but I hope I’m wrong. I’m be glad just to see klaus. With that along with Hullabaloo it feels like things are about to get pretty interesting for hand drawn again. Fingers crossed these lead to feature length projects as well.

  • Chicken McPhee

    This is actually really really great news!

  • Michael Helmer

    a lot of complaining about this very exciting announcement and the possibility of making 2D films again

    • Michael Helmer

      and not surprisingly a high percentage of anti-Canadian sentiment here in the comments section

      • Barrett

        Well, us 2D die-hards are so desperate for good 2D to return to popular and economic viability, we’ll gladly overlook nationality just to make that happen. And besides, it’s been clear to most of us for the last decade that Europe and Canada have been kicking our @sses when it comes to advancing the art of traditional animation. Those government subsidies sure do help!

  • Elsi Pote

    My condolences to the Canadian Tax Payers.

    • Barrett

      Nonsense. If America had any kind of similar arts funding, I would gladly pay more each year to help fund it. This widespread plebeian attitude of “my taxes should only be used on roads and police” is one of the many sad things about our country.

  • Slim Cognito

    Hopefully Klaus comes to fruition. I absolutely loved that teaser they animated.

    • Barrett

      I will pay real money to make Klaus happen. Klaus is the kind of animation I expected to see in this era – a more refined and digitally enhanced version of classical 2D animation. Instead, even the best animated stuff out there is either 3D rendered, or is on TV (Rick & Morty, Gravity Falls, Steven Universe) and “rendered” in a comparatively simple, even ugly style. Sure, top-notch writing is fantastic, of course, no one cares about beautiful animation done in service to forgettable stories (otherwise those 90s Bluth films would be classics!) But damn, I just want to see Klaus blow up so bad. THIS is what modern animation should be!