After just three and a half years in business, Pixar Canada ceased operation yesterday, putting approximately 100 people out of work.
Pixar Canada, a Canadian satellite studio of Emeryville, California’s Pixar Animations Studios, opened the doors to its Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, office on April 20, 2010. Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios and co-founder of Pixar, said at the time, “Everything we touch needs to be excellent”, so the studio began with that lofty goal and a modest staff of just 20 employees. In their first 18 months, they planned to expand to a staff of 70; this was surpassed when the number of people employed by Pixar Canada reached 80 in 2012 and eventually ballooned to roughly 100 by the time the studio was shut down. In the below video, Chief Creative Officer of both Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios John Lasseter expresses a desire to populate Pixar Canada’s employee roster with the most talented animators in Canada, and it seems they were well on their way to doing so.http://youtu.be/rzbKgujZF7c
So what happened? According to a statement made by Barb Matheson, a spokesman for Disney, “A decision was made to refocus operations and resources under one roof. Staff were just told today. Not great news, obviously. It was just a refocusing of efforts and resources to the one facility.” In a statement, Pixar reiterated the point, “As the dynamics of the animation industry continue to change rapidly, we continue to fine-tune our studio and its production processes. We have made the determination to refocus our creative and business efforts and resources under one roof.” That seems like a reasonable explanation, but some have speculated the timing of this decision has to do with Vancouver’s changing tax incentive program. As for me? Pixar’s other actions in recent months make me believe the explanation they’re offering… mostly…
What does this mean for Pixar?
On the small scale, it must be a disappointment. They introduced this expansion to great excitement, just three years ago; it started working exclusively on short films based on the parent studio’s features (titles include: Air Mater; Small Fry; Time Travel Mater; Partysaurus Rex; and three “Tales from Radiator Springs” titled Hiccups, Bugged, and Spinning, which debuted on Disney Channel in March of this year and would be the studio’s final films). You would assume, the studio had planned to eventually work on feature films and follow the path Pixar paved from the short film Luxo Jr. in the late-’80s and into the first feature-length, computer-animated film in the mid-’90s with Toy Story. They didn’t quite make it there, and that’s got to be a bummer for not only Lasseter and Catmull but also the many Vancouver-based employees who are now forced to look for work elsewhere.
On the large scale, however, this wouldn’t seem to be a big deal for Pixar. You’d think this could be at least a bit of a PR embarrassment, but the truth is: the majority of the general public hasn’t even been aware Pixar Canada existed. Millions have seen their work, of course, but to most people, it all falls under the blanket brand of “Pixar”, anyway. The more pressing matter is the fact that, after recent rearrangements made to release dates, 2014 will be the first year since 2005 to not have a Pixar film. It seems the studio indeed is actually taking this time to refocus their resources and effort, so they can tackle the total of seven films they have scheduled for release in the next five years. They don’t have time for this to be a big deal.
What does this mean for Vancouver?
That is the more interesting question at hand. There are approximately 25,000 people in British Columbia who are employed in the film and digital media industry, so the 100 layoffs by Pixar Canada is basically a drop in the bucket (not to minimize the troubles of those 100, of course). There are several other animation companies located right in Vancouver, including Sony Pictures ImageWorks Canada and Nitrogen Studios Canada, both of which continue to have plenty of work. If those laid off by Pixar Canada can’t find a job in Vancouver (and don’t relocate to Emeryville to stay with Pixar), maybe they’ll have some luck at one of the other over 30 animation studios in Canada. In fact, that’s what many in Vancouver are worried about.
I won’t bore you with the details of British Columbia’s politics… much. The gist is that Vancouver used to be the go-to place for the film and television industry to bring their business; the reason for this is that British Columbia has a very friendly tax incentive program. In recent years, however, Canada’s other provinces have upped their incentive programs and, thus, taken a lot of business away from Vancouver. The recent byelection in British Columbia pitted Carole Gordon against Christy Clark; as the film and television industry is important to British Columbia’s economy, these tax incentives were a major contention during the campaign. Gordon’s platform was that she would make British Columbia’s tax incentives more competitive with those of places like Quebec and Ontario; Clark’s position was that Vancouver was already giving enough of a tax incentive to the film and television industry and would not continue to give more just because other provinces were. In July, Clark won the byelection, and this is the timing some people think influenced Pixar’s decision to close up shop in Vancouver.
it definitely may have been a factor, and only time will tell if Pixar eventually chooses to venture back into Canada with a new satellite studio in one of those other provinces. Hell, with Quebec recently giving WB Games Montreal a $63 million grant to expand their business in the city and a $400 million grant to Ubisoft to do the same, I wouldn’t be shocked if Pixar came out and said they’re going to open a video game studio in Montreal. Companies go where the money is, and then the money goes where the companies are; if Christy Clark and British Columbia draw this line in the sand, it’s commendable, but they may be looking at quite a few departing companies and a lot more unemployed workers.