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the challenge of animation, an ongoing conversation (plus a call for feature talent)

Last updated on March 8, 2010

March 2, 2010

Chapter one in an ongoing series.

I was speaking with a distributor this week. They’ve been approached by an American client who is looking to do a feature film. It’s got a low budget (but still in the tens of millions) and they’re looking to produce it in Canada. Great right? You’d think. However, despite our international reputation as an animation powerhouse, this distributor still has to sell us to the client. They’d like to do it in Canada, bump up their budget with Canadian tax credits, and generally get a little more bang for their buck. But the problem is, they’re just not convinced we have the skilled crew to do the job. And frankly, I don’t blame them.

As usual, before I go any further, I’m going to have to clarify myself. I don’t blame THEM for their line of thinking. Personally, I could crew a feature in about a month. I know who I’d get to manage the production, I know who I’d get to direct, who I’d get to supervise animation, and the rest I could fill in pretty quickly from there. I know we can do it, without a moment’s hesitation. But that being said, I can totally understand why they’d have doubts.

Starz did “9” last year. I understand that March has plans for a Dex Hamilton feature. We had crews in Toronto and Vancouver doing straight to DVD Disney sequels in the 90’s. There were films like the Nutcracker and the Raggedy Anne picture here in Ottawa in the eighties. Rainmaker/Mainframe has done a bunch of DVD features. Bardel serviced some Dreamworks stuff about ten years back. And if you go back far enough, there’s always Heavy Metal. So yeah, we’ve made features. Not a lot that I’d call hits, but the crews are out there. Try showing that to a client with millions of dollars on the line, though. There’s no one studio to go to. Those crews are long scattered, and some of the very best animators our country has produced haven’t made the jump to digital and are now semi-retired, teaching, or working in other industries. Many are too scarred from being burned by studios to want to work on something like this again.

So, we’ve got our baggage. But that doesn’t solve the problem.

This distributor contacted me looking for a list of feature quality directors they could show to their client. I directed them to the Animation Directory that I link to, the one that the Ottawa International Animation Festival hosts. You know it, the one I encouraged everyone to register for. The very directory most of you didn’t register for, for whatever reason. I’ll mention here that the most popular one was that you didn’t want to get on a mailing list from the festival. Well, that’s just super. The distributor went looking, for what it’s worth. Not much a showing.

Now what do we do? Well, for starters, I’m going to put in hours of time trying to find the talent to sell this client. I’m not going to to get paid for it. And one or two of you may get a great job out of it. If it goes really well, I’ll get some work, maybe helping put this thing together. But someone else, in this case me, is going to be doing the legwork so YOU, the animation community can get a shot at a gig.

So help me out here. I’m looking for feature animators, bg painters, directors, etc. Canadian citizens either here or abroad with feature experience. I’m asking you to do your part. Help me help out the community. If you know someone who fits the bill, get them to contact me. I want a list, I want a crew. 2d-3d hybrid, traditional character animation with 3d backgrounds. Story artists, I need you too. Send me your resume, your link, all the good stuff.

Prove me right.


  1. Mark Douthwright Mark Douthwright March 2, 2010

    That’s awesome Mike! I commend your efforts. I believe we can do it too. I am surprised that not as many people put themselves in the directory. A fickle bunch we are, I guess. Perhaps there is also a generational gap at work here too. Young and uncertain or older and jaded, maybe? In any case, I’d welcome a feature to Canada and especially Ottawa (being partial and all). If I can offer anything from my experiences in hybrid 2D/3D, I would love to help out. Although I am quite busy at the moment you just never know when you’re going to need work, right? Any way, It sounds like great opportunity. If it weren’t, I doubt you would be involved in it. Thanks, man!

  2. Steven M. Steven M. March 2, 2010

    20 million is a really insufficient amount for an entire animated feature. Is it 2D or 3D? Either way, you should consider markets with much lower labour costs, like India or China. I heard that 9 started with about a 30 million dollar budget, but costs quickly escalated and Starz (at one point at least) were under pressure to kick in more financing to get the project completed. Who knows what the final budget was, though… the studios never really release the final numbers. Either way, good luck! I’ll keep my eye open on 2pop if you ever start hiring!

  3. Rob Anderson Rob Anderson March 3, 2010

    As an old and jaded guy I still believe that this can be done. A feature need not cost more than this. It depends on what the film is. The reason why 9’s budget ballooned was because Starz had to take over the production from another studio that couldn’t complete it. I suspect that if it had all started at the one studio there would have been major cost savings. And they completed that film in a year!
    Sure for 20 million you aren’t going to get The Incredibles but you can get something pretty decent I would think as long as it has STORY STORY STORY!!!

  4. Dan Turner Dan Turner March 3, 2010

    Why don’t you contact Yowza? They have been doing feature animation there for years and have access to some of the best animators in Canada.

  5. Jeff Barker Jeff Barker March 4, 2010

    Not exactly sure how it works, but in order for a company to maximize tax credits wouldn’t a studio need to be set-up outside the GTA?
    I realize there’s a helluva great talent pool in the GTA, but I have always wondered why a studio doesn’t set up shop in neighboring cities such as Kitchener or Hamilton which have such drastically lower costs of living….just curious.
    So much work is farmed out and freelanced these days, it would be great to have all these fantastic artists collected under one roof working together in a collaborative environment on a feature film. Everyone in the Canadian animation industry knows there certainly is enough talent.

  6. Nick Nick March 6, 2010

    You can easily -yes, easily- do a feature project for 20 million dollars. You just have to understand that ‘feature’ does not mean one thing (disneyesque). TV productions are done at a way smaller rate in comparison to how much ‘footage’ is produced. All you need to do is organize really well and not waste time and money. We did a half hour pilot for waaaaaayyyyy less money then that. With such a high budget, you can afford to make more extravagant animation that audiences expect.
    That is the kind of money that I would dream of getting to make a film…

  7. Nick Nick March 6, 2010

    Oh…my wife looked at this and brought up the fact that Persepolis was produced (quite a bit of it in canada) for 7.3 million dollars.

  8. kendaviscartoons kendaviscartoons March 9, 2010

    Well, Mike–keep my name handy for it. You know my background, and I’m always game for storyboarding.

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