From 'Umbrella Academy' to 'Handmaid's Tale': Inside Ontario's Visual Effects Boom

Courtesy of Netflix
Toronto-based SpinVFX handles the elaborate effects work on Netflix’s 'Umbrella Academy.'

The rise of pricey, VFX-heavy streaming projects in Ontario has presented the province's postproduction industry with seemingly limitless opportunity, with no shortage of cutting-edge creative work.

The rise of pricey, VFX-heavy streaming projects in Ontario has presented the province’s postproduction industry with seemingly limitless opportunity to stretch creative talent beyond the classic mix of police and medical dramas and soaps.

As sound supervisor on Hulu critical darling The Handmaid’s Tale, Jane Tattersall was tasked with creating a bold, dystopian audio environment for the totalitarian Republic of Gilead in the upcoming third season. "The [streamers] raise the bar because they have confidence in you," says Tattersall of MGM execs. "And, in turn, we’re made to work harder and push the envelope."

John Rakich — whose recent Ontario location manager credits include Netflix’s Mark Millar superhero series Jupiter’s Legacy and monster-hunter thriller October Faction — jokes that he and others have become fixtures in the streaming giant’s family. "It’s very rare to see something being made here that’s not for a streaming service — even the CBC’s Anne With an E. Somehow we’ve all ended up working for Netflix."

After streamers shoot a film or TV series in Ontario, they often stay behind and capitalize on extra tax credits by doing postproduction work and visual effects locally. "We are in a constant mode of busy," says Neishaw Ali, president and executive producer of SpinVFX, which worked on Netflix’s superhero/sci-fi mashup Umbrella Academy, produced by UCP. "We had so much fun creating the work, as it had to do with time travel and a lot of destruction sequences."

Southern Ontario isn’t monopolizing all the work, though. The north, especially Sudbury and North Bay, is home to leading Canadian-made streaming series like Hulu/CTV’s Letterkenny and Netflix/City’s Bad Blood, both of which are produced by Mark Montefiore’s New Metric Media. Says Montefiore: "It’s amazing that small population centers four hours north of the giant Toronto metropolis can produce some of the highest-quality and most recognizable content in Canada."

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's May 16 daily issue at the Cannes Film Festival.