It's Raining Pegbars! A Profile Of Animation In Vancouver
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Computer Animation And Effects
The computer animation and effects scene in Vancouver has paralleled the live-action industry in its growth. With the evolution of technology, the last decade has seen a digital wave in Vancouver that continues to expand. Three local giants collectively employ about one thousand artists: Rainmaker Digital Pictures, Mainframe Entertainment and Electronic Arts Canada.

The long-standing Gastown Productions, a film facility for processing and post effects, met the digital wave head-on by reforming itself as Rainmaker Digital Pictures. Their facilities offer an array of post-production services ranging from traditional film developing to digital image processing techniques. In the last few years, they have seen a growing volume of effects work that requires animation. For Rainmaker, the growth in this area has been ridiculously fast and shows no signs of slowing down, as evidenced by their recent expansion of 12,000 feet. They just finished up work on Aftershock, a TV mini-series which aired on CBS with effects work that went into the millions of dollars. "It’s all good - we’re thrilled!" says Rainmaker rep Malcolm Earle. "Producers are now realizing that we’re capable in this city of pulling off sizable projects, as opposed to coming into town, getting a few quick shots, and finishing up elsewhere. Still, there’s a lot more work we could be doing here."

A shot from the first episode of the widely popular Beast Wars. Courtesy of Mainframe Entertainment. TM & 2000 Hasbro Properties Group.

Mainframe Entertainment is going strong with four TV series already under their belt. Weird-Ohs, their latest, is boldly different from the techno-worlds of Reboot and Beast Machines, and the galactic special effects of War Planets/Shadow Raiders. The cartoon look employs bright colors and wacky design, with the most exaggerated style of animation I've seen in computer animation to date. Action Man, their new series set to air on Fox this fall, will be the first time the studio has used motion-capture. For Mainframe’s previous shows, mo-cap was neither practical nor advantageous for the high-speed turnaround of the episodes. More importantly, Mainframe respects what the animators bring to a character's performance and want to maintain that quality in their shows. The main character in Action Man is a young thrill-seeker with special physical powers who participates in extreme sports; this seemed like the right moment to bring in the suits and wires. Mainframe will build their own studio and do all the mo-cap in-house. The Mainframe animators aren't put off by what some see as a threat to their craft. It will give them more time on each episode to focus on the acting sequences and facial animation they do best. The studio is also working on Gulliver’s Travels, the first of three IMAX features slated for production and scheduled for release in 2001.

Last year, Electronic Arts Canada built a new facility and mo-cap studio to house their four-hundred plus employees. EA's sports games involve big name talent, who are wired up for capture sessions that recreate the essence of their athletic feats. (The skateboarders were flying so high that the roof on the studio had to be raised!) The Canadian mo-cap facility is a major resource for EA. Along with their extensive reference library, it services all the other EA studios across the globe. The new EA building pampers its employees with a cafeteria, weight room, day care, gaming arcades, full-length basketball court, outdoor soccer field and regular dance parties.

Several small game companies have cropped up in recent years, but Radical Entertainment has been around since 1991. Radical has been through some highs and lows that sent many of their animators to work at EA a few years ago. However, they've bounced back stronger than ever, with a recent release of products such as Jackie Chan's Stuntmaster, a highly anticipated PlayStation game. They lured professor Dave Forsey away from the University of British Columbia to develop his H-spline technique for multi-resolution modeling. The resulting software, Rodin, is a popular plug-in for 3D Studio Max. Some of the newer game companies include BlackBox Games, Relic Entertainment (makers of Homeworld) and H2O Entertainment, the sole Canadian developer for the Nintendo 64 system and creators of Tetrisphere.

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