imageworks-vancouvermove imageworks-vancouvermove

Sony Pictures Animation Will No Longer Animate Its Films in the US

Animation and visual effects studio Sony Pictures Imageworks has confirmed what many in the industry had suspected for a long while: the studio is moving its headquarters from Los Angeles to Vancouver, Canada to take advantage of generous tax credits provided by the Canadian government. This move, combined with Digital Domain’s jump to Vancouver and Rhythm & Hues’ bankruptcy, prompted Variety’s VFX chronicler David S. Cohen to say that the Los Angeles feature film visual effects industry is “in full collapse.”

Imageworks is the studio that produces the animation for Sony Pictures Animation (SPA) films, including the upcoming Hotel Transylvania 2 and the all-CG Smurfs movie. They also make non-SPA animated films like Rovio’s Angry Birds, and provide vfx on live-action films such as the recent Amazing Spider-Man 2, and the forthcoming pics Guardians of the Galaxy (Disney/Marvel) and Pixels (Columbia).

The new Vancouver studio will be located in the Pacific Centre shopping mall, directly above a Nordstrom department store. Expected to be fully operational by 2015, the studio will have the capacity to house 700 employees. There is no word on what’ll happen to the approximately 270 Imageworks employees who currently work in Los Angeles, or whether they will be invited to relocate to Canada. Sony Pictures Animation’s development and pre-production teams, which number well over 100 employees, will remain in Los Angeles.

(Sources: Vancity Buzz/Hollywood Reporter)

  • Crystal

    Still want to know if “Can You Imagine?” is 2D or not, I really want an update on that movie . . .

    But I’m guessing this means fewer work for those in the US? Wasn’t sure if there were even fewer jobs outside the US

    • Josh Moore

      The film is going to be CG.

      • Crystal


  • jonhanson

    I’m not opposed to outsourcing this kind of work on principle like some people are but it seems incredibly crappy to turn your back on the studio that made hits like Imageworks has. Just another reminder that studios view animation artists as replaceable.

    Enjoy it while you can Canada, when the tax incentives dry up and China or India look more viable then the jobs will move on to cheaper pastures…

    • DangerMaus

      That’s happened already within Canada itself. Provinces started competing with each other through movie tax credits. BC lost a lot of production to other provinces, such as Ontario, when they started offering even more generous tax credits than BC’s.

      This is the downside of “Globalization” on corporate terms. It is a race to the bottom for everyone who isn’t a shareholder or in top management.

    • k

      We’ve always been dealing with that. This is not new to Canada. I guess now the Americans can finally know what it’s like to not have job security in the industry.

      • DangerMaus

        “Job Security” as a concept died when the owners of production and their political puppets convinced workers that Unions and Collective Bargaining were the evil and not their unrestrained greed. It also died when they convinced all of us peons that allowing them to move their money and production to cheaper venues without restriction, under the guise of “free trade”, would benefit us all.

        I can see it is working really well when 30 year men and women have to have their parents help make ends meet by having to help them by paying their bills.

        • rufus3698

          Companies that don’t move out of numero uno tax / high cost of living states like California should be sued by the stockholders for incompetent management. Those stockholders include Union retirement plans and quite a lot of retired little old ladies.

          US corporate income tax = 40%
          Canadian corporate income tax = 26.5%
          Greed. thy name is “vote buying”.

          • Jimbo2K7

            Greed thy name is worker exploitation and tax evasion.

          • tgyujk

            No-one pays the base US rate, because of lots of loopholes and deductions. What companies actually pay is quite competitive.

          • Hervé Maxwell

            Luxembourg corp income tax = 0.1 %

            come here :)

        • Juan Andres Martinez

          Unions belong in socialist countries not the US. How is it the American way if you can’t get fired for being a bad employee. How does being in a union provide a incentive to be a good worker?

          • DangerMaus

            I’d like to address your fallacious points but I can’t. Thanks to the corporatizing of the political system a person can be fired by their employer for expressing their personal political views. In other words, as long as a person is employed they have no freedom of expression, because whatever they say on or off the job can be construed as representing the company. Welcome to the corporatocracy.

          • talos72

            I assume your statements are pure sarcasm, otherwise I would say they sound ridiculous.

          • lueko

            I’m not sure you grasp how a union works. You may want to look into it a little more before writing again :)

  • Seriously?

    You nearly killed me. From the headline I thought they were off to India or Korea!

  • snail_male

    Oh brother. Even as a Canadian I am getting weary of hearing this sort of development. Anyone else cringing, wondering what month it will be when we hear of them closing up shop in Van and/or outsourcing even further away?

  • This is not only disheartening to hear, but also frustrating and upsetting. Yes, making movies is a business thing, and they do have the right to do what they desire to make profit. I still find this not only annoying, but as a fan, and an inspired animator to be, I find this unbelievable. It is like America cannot be responsible for creating anything anymore. Very frustrating and disappointed in Sony.

    • mick

      Make the most cash however you can and keep it for yourself. That’s capitalism. You want them to think of others? Why that’s PINKO talk!!

  • James VanDam

    I honestly believe there should be new international trade laws that prevent this sort of out sourcing. Studios are drying up in the US just to save a quick buck. I want there to be a resurgence of jobs for animators in the US. But at least its in Canada and not India or some other country across the Pacific.

    • Katie W

      It would help if states started offering the tax breaks for creative work that Canada currently offers (Georgia has a program like this). Comedy Central’s ‘Ugly Americans’ had its budget cut in half by outsourcing animation to Canada and then to Georgia. The studios that it was outsourced too tended to also use long-distance workers who worked from home, and as a result the quality was, at times, frustrating. You just can’t get optimum creative control when you farm stuff out like that.

    • Kaye

      If it was a ‘quick buck’, they wouldn’t be doing it. Please educate yourself about the plight of design studios.
      Please watch the documentary called ‘Life After Pi,’ on Youtube.

    • IamMe

      No that is bad for everyone. We don’t need more US control. Problem why jobs are being shipped out is because of rising costs and having to deal with unions.

      • Jason

        Um no? Union membership is at an all time historic low. It’s a non entity except for political purposes.

    • Jack Rabbit

      Do that and the Studios will use their leverage to hire talent from outside the country under the guise that they are better than the American talent that is applying for the American jobs. There are no winners. Big business will always find a way to offset labor towards the 1890’s standards.

    • Helder Pinto

      I see your point, but isn’t Sony a Japanese company tho?

  • Marie

    I’d be interested in know more financial information about this situation. It’s one thing if a company’s bottom line is being crushed by grossly unfair tax rates. It’s another thing, however, when businesses obsess over making a killing instead of making a living, also known as greed, the sickness that’s infecting the U.S. Essentially, no matter how much these companies make, it’s never going to be enough. The original article says that an Imageworks’ move to New Mexico was made due to subsidies, then they moved out of NM when the subsidies dried up. They’re constantly hopping around, displacing the valuable employees about whom they should care. Each move maximizes their exploitation of government subsidies but when the government asks for them to give back in taxes, they pack up and leave. The American way, take but don’t give.

  • Nw

    As someone in Vancouver, it’s great and will be for a couple of years until better tax incentives are offered elsewhere. With major animation studios sending more and more work to Asia etc,it’s not just the vfx industry on a down slide in North America. I really can’t imagine the state of main stream animation and VFX in the next 10 or so years……sorry to be so bleak!

    Backpacking after jobs in the industry can be fun for a few years but it gets old quickly.

  • yessir

    Yes!!!!! I moved to Vancouver because I knew this would be happening. Bring it.

    • Jason

      You’re still competing with veterans who simply transferred up there.
      Focus on your craft not corporate politics.

      • yessir

        You have absolutely no idea who I am. I’ve predicted the industry trends for the last 20 years – as a veteran.

  • Ironhorse

    Let’s not forget that the State of California loves to tax and overspend. The state is not managed like a business so money just pours through a tin horn. To sustain that spending the taxes go up because the state doesn’t know how to make money, only how to take it.
    Sony is flush with cash, yes, but at the end of the day they exist to make money. They don’t care about art unless it just happens to make money. If Sony can relocate where expenses are lower how can anyone be shocked? A publicly traded company does these things. Anyone working for such a company needs to realize this.
    None of these developments make me happy but they don’t surprise me, either. It’s an ugly, vicious cycle that continues to repeat itself.

    • Jason

      It has nothing to do with ‘TAX N SPEND’. This isn’t a liberal or conservative issue. Saying stuff like ‘state doesn’t know how to make money, only how to take it’ is just weird since California’s GDP is higher than most nations. You’re trying to turn this into a political issue.

      It’s simple.
      BC taxpayers pay 60% of resident VFX salaries while all the big hollywood companies stay in and enjoy California. It’s just propping up something that’s already making boatloads of money for no reason.

      California has it’s issues. But it’s not going anywhere especially since it props up most of America with it’s taxes going to the federal government.

  • Toonio

    And the Canadian tax payers will end up funding the pockets of American studios, increasing their wealth. Sorry eh!

    • AmidAmidi

      Actually, Canadian taxpayers are funding the pockets of a Japanese corporation. Sony isn’t an American company.

  • Fernando Gabriel Miller-Yache

    Obviously CA state needs to encourage tax breaks as many other countries and cities do. I am sorry for this to happen to the business in the USA , but on the other hand, I totally agree with some of the comments bellow…there are more competitive markets out there with a great creative talent. A movie also can be done for less than 150 to 200 millions dollars as it is the budget for a high quality animated film. There are too many none creative people involved in the process also eating much of the movie budget that is not given to the artists actually doing what they know best! The HUGE problem is that still animation schools and places like animation mentor continue pumping out new talent into an industry that has less and less opportunities in the USA and also in many other countries and locations… if not, you will need to relocate to other place where your talent will be needed… that is the sad reality of the animation business today…We are not anymore in the CA of Walt Disney…but in the CA of Mr Katenberg !!!

    • FormerSonyEmployee

      Trying to compete with tax breaks is a race to the bottom on California tax payers backs while continuing the huge payout for movie studios. Treat film work as an import/export situation and tax the import product approximately same as the government did to protect auto workers (for a time anyways.) L.A. could become a new Detroit.

      You say “there are more competitive markets out there with a great creative talent.” If that was true of Vancouver, then tax incentives wouldn’t be needed and Sony employees wouldn’t be relocated to Vancouver to do the work. As it stands, Sony employees either need to chase their own jobs to other countries, find work in another VFX studio (which are closing their doors yearly) or find a different line of work. Meanwhile our government sits by and does nothing as the big business movie studios reap the financial rewards.

  • Grant Beaudette

    And Imageworks will surely stay in Vancouver for years to come. Just like Pixar.

    • JeanbearTheImmasculator

      Except Pixar went back to the states.

      • T Lerms

        That was the joke.

  • megadrivesonic

    I am getting sick an tired of outsourcing, first it happened to everything 2D which I still think is stupid since its cheaper to make in the first place. Now its affecting 3D as well, I am afraid of being an animator in the US and not having work. This is why animators hate the Higher ups so much because they don’t care about the art form they only care about the bottom line regardless of the consequences.

    • Kay

      I know I’m seriously reconsidering becoming an animator. I mean, I love it, but when there’s so much competition and when the few US studios go somewhere else, it seems extremely unsatisfying a career.

      • Helder Pinto

        There’s other industries to be an animator, like games industry and others.
        If you really want to be an animator, then you shouldn’t let things like this get in your way otherwise you’re well on your way to be just another brick in the wall.

  • rfk

    Sony already made a go of India and pulled up stakes.

    Also, I’d just like to remind Canadian artists that they too are eligible to join a union.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      Well at least it’s not an overseas option here.

  • Anonymous

    I knew something was up by talking to the HR people at SPA. For months they couldn’t give me a straight answer.

  • Hopeful

    There’s been a support page on the Animation Guild Blog in regard to “California Assembly Bill 1839 – The California Film & Television Job Retention and Promotion Act”. If this news upsets you, at the very least you can let your Congressmen/women know. Here’s the link to the letter:

    Please show your support for the industry! Maybe we can do something about it.

  • Fried

    Gravity Falls, Steven Universe, Avatar, and many others would like a word with you about the quality of their animation.

  • tedtrent

    Bottom line, you have to be competitive in any and all industries.

  • James VanDam

    Point Taken. But it still is upsetting that it is moving out of the states.

  • NamelessDrake

    You do realize that Sony Pictures has been a US-based concern since WELL before Sony bought it, right?

  • M

    Yet another reason why my degree from The Academy of Art is worthless.
    Look out unemployment line, here i come.

    • I’m in the same boat… But hang in there, there’s plenty of art related jobs out there even if they aren’t animation. It’s all a swinging pendulum so things will get better eventually. People love animation so it’s not as bad as 40 years ago. There’s a lot of people who know the system needs to improve for artists, so all it takes is a few of them to earn the power to make it happen.

  • IamME

    Sony is technically Japanese. They are just outsourcing to a new location. Unfortunately cost in the US have skyrocketed to make visual effects vs the rest of the world. It is all fair game quite honestly. I outsource, not to save a buck but because I could not afford a US cost of living. Sorry guys outsourcing gives people a job regardless of where.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Well thanks for the geography lesson.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    And yet we’ve find it just as disposable as anything else these days.

  • bob

    well if you feel that strongly about it, surely you never see products produced by those studios.

  • Animators Vacation

    Sony should put Imageworks into a series of mobile homes, with wheels. Since they seem to just stay in a place until the tax incentives run out. Once they milk one place dry, they just pull up anchor and roll on into the next town.

  • Mister Twister

    Amid, stop making me more depressed than I already am >:(

  • Roberto Severino

    More evidence to me to prove that globalization and all these neoliberal ideas are just a load of rubbish and a scam to rob people of job security.

  • Unions will surely fix this problem! :P

    Good for Canada, congrats. Sorry for the folks who will either lose their job or have to move to Canada (there are worse places in the world, to be sure).

  • Dave

    What’s worse is these Canadian companies often have to hire Canadian citizens to get the tax incentives. And what of the rumor that Dreamworks will move all film production to India and China in the next few years. Never thought I’d see the day the US outsources Hollywood; talk about tying your own noose.

  • Dave

    There’s good talent everywhere, but ILM, Pixar, R&H, Digital Domain, PDI, Dreamworks, Blue Sky, Tippet, Lieka, Reel FX, Autodesk, Adobe, Fractal Design- were all started by Americans. I won’t even bother getting into hardware and games and live-action and 2D.

  • Daniel

    Blue Sky moved OUT of NY TO Conn, not the other way around, I know, I worked there.

  • AJ

    China will own all VFX production within 15 years. As well as most of the actual principal photography for films simple because it makes it domestic (for the Chinese market), they have the money to invest, and they can build out whatever film infrastructure is needed in a matter of months with little red tape from multiple layers of government.

    This is a country with entire cities sitting empty, a country with large patches of vacant land, and a country that can build a 15-story hotel in 6 days.

    The writing is on the wall.

    • Son-Eh.

      Dreamworks is already building their studio in Shanghai. And if you believe the animation done there is “only for the Chinese market” I’ve got a bridge for sale.

  • Roberto Severino

    Yup but that’s just a name I’ve seen these austerity and free trade related policies (also anything that has anything to do with “balancing” the budget or vehemently cutting deficit spending was what I was referring to as well) get lumped under and yes, people like Bush, Alan Greenspan, and even Bill Clinton had a lot to do with it too.

  • Roberto Severino

    Very true! Either way, we are sadly living in a plutocracy and this is the kind of stuff that happens because of it. Even with this current president, corporate profits have been skyrocketing so I see your point.

    Been heading towards such a society since probably the early 70s and especially during the Reagan era and all that supply side and trickle down economics nonsense. Don’t wanna get off topic but yeah.

  • Dave

    Laika does indeed do CG, and they did the most cutting edge stop-mo/CG hybrid facial animation ever seen.

  • Jason

    You really seem to hate California.

    It’s not taxes it’s tax credits. Pretend you don’t even have to pay taxes and the state or province pays you instead and here we are today.

  • Jason

    Not as high as Vancouvers at the moment. I know Montreal is itching to give away more free money but we’ll see.

  • Iker

    While I pretty much agree with what everyone is saying, this discussion is pretty ‘U.S. based-biased’. Don’t forget that there are a lot of talented animators/artists from non-U.S. territories that never worked in the U.S. because of how hard is to get a work visa here in the States.

    I don’t support the greed and the hunger of big corporations for money, but outsourcing to countries like Canada or UK gives an opportunity to local artists (and when I say ‘local’ when speaking of UK I pretty much mean ‘everyone in Europe’) to work on what they’d love to. I’m not saying that’s the reason why these companies outsource, but a consequence.

    • Guest

      That’s a good way to look at it. For some Americans, we can still be a bit bitter when hearing news like this, especially with the state of our economy for the past several years.

    • Really?

      [Comment removed by editors. Per our commenting guidelines, “Use a single username on a comments thread so that other readers know who they are communicating with.”]

  • TKeen

    DeviantArt blows, unless you’re into My Little Pony, schlocky anime or superhero porn. Learn to draw, first of all, from the real figure and branch out from there. If you’re going to copy from something, then copy from Old Masters drawings or the Charles Bargue book, not from current comic books – they distort the figure far too much.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Sure would. I’d be wanting one in my hometown!

    • nevilleross

      So would I here in Toronto. And making shows that would air on YTV, Teletoon, or Cartoon Network Canada.

  • DangerMaus

    That was a joke, right? Japanese anime character design may be too generic from series to series and company to company, but the one thing they have going for them is the subject matter that they cover in their shows. They cover a hell of a lot more different subjects than Western animation does. Western animation mostly gets its subject matter from fairy tales and children’s books and, with a few exceptions, are almost always comedies.

    Japanese animation covers a gamut of genres: comedy, horror, drama, action. The list goes on. I’m watching one about a high school cycle racing club right now? Yeah, it is over the top and, sometimes, laughably dramatic but I have to give them credit for attempting to tell a story revolving around bicycle racing to begin with. When’s the last time a Western animated film attempted something like that? They haven’t.

    I certainly don’t think an industry that has produced films and series such as Akira, Perfect Blue, Paprika, Ghost In The Shell, Night On The Galactic Railroad, Cowboy BeBop, Gunsmith Cats, Patlabor, Serial Experiments Lain and just about every film that Miyazaki has made, needs any “improvement” in storytelling or subject matter from North Americans.

    The North American animation industry has nothing to teach the Japanese about storytelling or subject matter.

    • nevilleross

      You misunderstood me and weren’t paying attention; what I meant was that by Japanese studios coming here and setting up shop, the level of storytelling in North American animation would improve-I NEVER said that the Japanese needed to improve. In fact, I would love to see people from Pixar visit Gainax instead of Gainax visiting Pixar, and stay for enough of a while that they learn more about storytelling and animation design that would help them to make and design movies other than what they make and design now.

  • Crystal

    If that’s the case, I’ve lost interest in it. But that’s still not a good enough source . . .

    Initially, Genndy was only going to do Popeye (it was reported he wasn’t going to do HT2), but now he’s doing Hotel Transylvania 2 and Can You Imagine. Why the hell would you do 3 films in a short amount of time if you weren’t going to get more control over one of them?

    I find it so irritating that people claim how great it is Genndy (and people like Jorge Gutierrez or Rich Moore) are doing movies instead of TV whereas Genndy’s last 3 shows were a lot more mature and risk-taking and his movies are just doing the same shit everyone else is.

  • damspam

    Start another company, owned by the previous, and now unemployed Sony animators in LA. They could undercut the costs of the BC Imageworks transplant company by eliminating the parasitic ‘higher ups’. A smart, lean, employee-owned company is seriously doable. Animation companies are, at their core, purely a creativity driven entity with software, computers, and a whole lot of creative employees.

  • dan

    The location of this studio speaks volumes about the current state of animation. It is a commodity, nothing more. You could hang a sign outside:

    “Weekend Sale: Animation 10 cents/pound” You could get some now or wait for the bigger sale next week!

  • Darrel

    From what I’m hearing… the studio cant fill the positions because their is not enough qualified people to do the talented task. I also heard the people they asked to move up there don’t have jobs yet because projects have not started to go into production.

  • djl

    You want to pay 20 bucks to see a movie with little plot or imagination? I don’t. The ideas and scripts will (unfortunately) still come from Hollywood.