Toronto: Why Hollywood Tentpoles Love Ontario

RoboCop Screen Grab - H 2013

RoboCop Screen Grab - H 2013

Big-budget studio releases like "Robocop" and "Pacific Rim" are shooting on local soundstages and then staying behind to complete postproduction and visual effects work.

No one seems to want to leave Toronto these days.

A combination of traditional and digital tax credits from Ontario has major U.S. producers bringing FX-heavy pics like Pacific Rim, Robocop and Total Recall to Toronto for shooting on local soundstages and then staying behind for savings on postproduction and visual effects work.

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An added attraction is skilled VFX and animation technicians in local post houses, such as Mr. X, which worked on Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim during its Toronto shoot at Pinewood Toronto Studios. “Because directors and producers aren’t always based in Toronto,” says Jo Hughes, a VFX producer at Mr. X, “they will be here for production and set up in L.A. for their director’s cut and postproduction period,” then liaise with VFX houses up north.

Despite a high Canadian dollar compared to the American greenback, producers can reap as much as 50 percent in cost savings by going beyond Ontario’s 25 percent all-spend and the 16 percent federal film tax credits to tap the 20 percent Ontario Computer Animation and Special Effects tax credit (OCASE).

“The OCASE is stacked on top of the others. For a project that’s VFX-heavy, they can get a further 20 percent for green-screen components. It makes for quite an attractive package,” says Karen Thorne-Stone, president and CEO of Ontario Media Development Corp.

Ontario also offers the 35 to 40 percent Ontario Interactive Digital Media tax credit, which is doing much to juice the province’s growing gaming industry.

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Toronto VFX house Arc Productions did all the visual effects for the Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn live-action digital series but is best known for creature feature work.

An example is David Lickley’s upcoming Polar Quest Imax feature, which spotlights the bowhead whale, an increasingly camera-shy animal due to the Arctic sea ice shrinking in size. So the film’s producers tapped Arc Productions to create CG-animated whales in case their eight-week Arctic shoot failed to spot actual bowhead whales.

Says Kallan Kagan, Arc Productions’ chief creative officer: “If they found whales, we were out of a job. I’m happy to say they didn’t find whales and we added them.”