Sony Pictures Imageworks announced late Thursday that its headquarters will relocate to Vancouver, leaving the fate of its 270 Culver City VFX workers in question. The Oscar-winning VFX and digital animation wing of Sony recently handled effects on WB’s Tom Cruise sci-fier Edge of Tomorrow and Sony-Columbia’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Its current and future big-ticket projects include Disney/Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy, Columbia’s Pixels, the Angry Birds movie, and Sony’s Hotel Transylvania 2 and the untitled Smurfs sequel — all of which will be spearheaded by the Vancouver team as the company preps its move into a new 74,000-square-foot state of the art facility in Vancouver’s Pacific Centre.
A smaller LA-area office will remain as the headquarters shift is completed next year, though it’s unclear how many current employees will make the move. Dozens of staffers from SPI’s Southern California office were relocated in January to Vancouver, where SPI first set up shop in 2010 with just 80 artists. The move to the new Canadian digs, which can accommodate up to 700 employees, comes as ongoing concerns grow among some VFX pros that British Columbia’s generous 58% tax incentives could lure even more runaway VFX production to the region, away from hubs like Los Angeles.
“The 58.4% subsidy for BC-resident VFX artists shows how unsustainable subsidies have become and how expensive it would be for states like California to compete in the ‘race to the bottom,'” said VFX activist Daniel Lay, who runs the VFX Soldier blog. “Even [the passage of] California state bill AB1839 would probably do little to stem the effects of VFX runaway production to B.C. because of how much higher it is. Furthermore, B.C. is starting to lose their advantage to Quebec, which not only matches BC’s labor subsidies but provides 25% on non-labor costs also.”
VFX pro and fellow activist Dave Rand, one of the organizers behind the Life of Pi Oscars protest and ongoing efforts to rally the fractured VFX community, echoed those concerns. “Government subsidies like this have little to do with taxes or economic stimulation,” he said. “Canada’s and other countries own economists have written extensively about the losses incurred to Canada by this practice. Hollywood is a sexy story for voters, making politicians seem larger than life as they bask in the technicolor glow of Hollywood. The reality of it is that these politicians are buying votes with their constituents own money.”
To assist in the Vancouver expansion, Sony Pictures Imageworks has added Mark Breakspear as Visual Effects Supervisor and Shauna Bryan as VP New Business and Production Executive. Both are transplants from Vancouver’s Method Studios. The Vancouver operations will continue to be led by VP Production Operations Jason Dowdeswell.