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MAY
29
5 MOS

Sony's VFX House Imageworks Moving Headquarters to Vancouver

Future Imageworks and Sony Pictures Animation production -- including "Angry Birds," "Hotel Transylvania 2" and the untitled Smurfs movie -- will be handled entirely in British Columbia.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Garfield - P 2014
Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures Imageworks -- well known as the lead VFX house for the Spider-Man franchise including The Amazing Spider-Man 2 -- is moving its headquarters from Culver City to its Vancouver operation, meaning that all future Imageworks and Sony Picture Animation production will be handled entirely under one roof in British Columbia.

As part of its plans, the company said it intends to relocate to a new 74,000 square foot space during 2015, which would have capacity for up to 700 artists.

The decision underscores the VFX industry's retreat from California to cities such as Vancouver that are attracting Hollywood productions with generous incentives. Imageworks, which initially opened its Vancouver base in Yaletown during 2010, has been steadily growing its work force in the incentive-friendly city, while shrinking its Los Angeles presence. Randy Lake, executive vp and general manager of Sony's digital production services unit, told The Hollywood Reporter that it would not be immediately clear how many of the Culver City staffers will choose to consider relocation.

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Having recently finished work on The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Warners' Edge of Tomorrow, the Vancouver operation has a slate of upcoming projects including Disney's Guardians of the Galaxy (Aug. 1), Columbia's Pixels (May 2015), Rovio's Angry Birds (July 2016), Sony Pictures Animation's Hotel Transylvania 2 (September 2015) and the Untitled Smurfs movie (August 2016). It is also expected to continue its work on the Spider-Man franchise with The Amazing Spider-Man 3, which is slated for a June 10, 2016 release.

Last year, during the production of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, staff in Vancouver topped 350. That has since dropped but Lake expects it to reach that number again by January, as the company ramps up for the aforementioned Sony Pictures Animation features as well as one not-yet-disclosed project.

The new Vancouver space, which the company expects to open by next April, will have capacity for up to 700 artists in the downtown area's Cadillac Fairview Pacific Centre."It's a big vote of confidence on behalf of the studio," Lake said of Sony's plans for the VFX business.

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According to the company, some Imageworks staff will remain in Culver City, at least for the foreseeable future. That includes Ken Ralston, the company's four-time Academy Award winning senior VFX supervisor, as well as CTO/VFX supervisor Rob Bredow (Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs) and VFX supervisors Daniel Kramer (Edge of Tomorrow), Jerome Chen (The Amazing Spider-Man 2), Scott Stokdyk (Oz The Great and Powerful), Jay Redd (Men In Black 3) and Pete Travers (Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2).

Sony Pictures Animation's development team -- an estimated 125 employees -- are also expected to remain in Culver City, though animation production will be handled in Vancouver. Columbia's The Interview, opening Oct. 10, is expected to be the last production to be completed in Culver City. (Following completion of its work on Spider-Man 2, Imageworks shut what was its third base, in Chennai, India.)

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Jason Dowdeswell will continue to lead Imageworks' operations in Vancouver as vp of production operations. New to his team are Mark Breakspear, as a VFX supervisor; and Shauna Bryan, who will serve as vp, new business and production. Both arrive from similar roles at Method Studios' Vancouver base.

Bryan's background includes 10 years with Vancouver-based Rainmaker, with three years as executive producer/head of business development. Breakspear's credits as visual effects supervisor or artist include Seventh Son, Thor: The Dark World, Elysium and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2.

Like Imageworks, VFX houses Industrial Light + Magic, Digital Domain, MPC and others have opened Vancouver operations in recent years. "We initially [moved to Vancouver] to take advantage of tax incentives," said Lake. "But we have had phenomenal success with great talent. It's become a hub."

Pointing to passage on Wednesday of the California Film and Television Job Retention and Promotion Act of 2014 -- legislation to expand incentives to keep film and television production in California -- Lake added, "I'm hopeful the state increases its competitiveness. There won't be any hesitation on our part to continue to work in California (as well as Vancouver)."

The current VFX business model and impact from competition driven by production incentives, however, is taking its toll on many artists, who are vocal about calling for change. Rallies were held on Hollywood Blvd before both the 2013 and 2104 Academy Awards.

E-mail: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com

Twitter: @CGinLA