Vancouver’s reputation for science fiction television and visual effects began early

Posted: October 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

Last year’s top grossing Hollywood movies relied heavily on visual effects to tell their story – Avatar instantly springs to mind. For several years running, the top box office movies have been visual effects driven, Vancouver playing a major role in many, I, Robot, X-Men 2 & 3, Fantastic Four, etc. Two decades ago did we imagine visual effects becoming an integral part of motion picture production? That Vancouver would be a key production centre?

Vancouver’s reputation for science fiction television and visual effects began early: Poltergeist, The Outer Limits, and the Stargate franchise all required visual effects serviced locally with in house teams. Andromeda, another effects heavy successful long running series, required the same. The artists who worked on these productions were breaking new ground creating and learning while on the job. IATSE Local 891’s reputation for creative art departments and efficient construction and IATSE 669’s professional camera crews were an asset that was marketed by the Locals to bring made for cable sci-fi productions to Vancouver. As these series television took hold it became evident that a home grown visual effects industry was needed to support the production.

The unimaginable back then has now become par for the course. Battlestar Galactica, Smallville, Supernatural, Caprica, and Psych are all locally shot series requiring significant visual effects. The Stargate franchise is still in production! Meanwhile, new frontiers with technology and visual effects are being set with the television series Sanctuary and movies like District 9.

Vancouver is now home to over thirty visual effects companies. Los Angeles resident companies have also set up shop, Digital Domain, CIS, Zoic to name a few – the list keeps growing. The significance of the British Columbia Digital Animation and Visual Effects (DAVE) tax credit cannot be underestimated. Budgets are combining DAVE with the BC Labour Tax Incentive increasing the number of productions that are shot here and simultaneously vfx’d. Hundreds of visual effects artists and technicians toil away in non-union facilities on productions that are shot here by union crews earning union wages and benefits. Companies are now working on projects from around the world, something that didn’t happen in the early 90’s. Local film and art schools are churning out graduates providing the next wave of artists and technicians.

IATSE is an international entertainment union with 110,000 plus members in North America. IATSE 891 came into existence in 1962 when a group of forwarded thinking filmmakers decided that Vancouver could be a film centre and petitioned the IATSE for a charter. Since that time we have grown from 50 to well over 5,000 strong, the fourth largest local in North America and crewing productions in the third largest production center outside of Hollywood and New York. This has been no accident, since 1962, Local 891 has been involved in marketing every year, training and building our expertise. Our members are increasingly working in new technologies including visual effects. Negotiating contracts with health and retirement benefits has allowed members to have freelance careers in a notoriously mobile industry. Contracts with benefits are the norm for virtually all those involved in production of motion picture.

What is not the norm are freelance visual effects artists who do not get access to the same benefits as freelance union directors, actors, cinematographers, editors, scenic artists, etc. No access to the collective benefits that other entertainment unions have negotiated on behalf of their members. No access to the 46th largest Canadian defined contribution RRSP plan. No access to Health Benefits plan that includes MSP and dental. No access to union advocacy for workplace disputes. When will visual effects artists and technicians be treated equitably?

It’s time for change.

  1. Frau Mikiko says:

    As someone who just recently arrived onto the vfx scene in Vancouver, this is a valuable and humbling reminder that the vfx industry here wasn’t born or worse, as some allege, imported from the US or the UK. Local productions along with the filming crew and stage production needed to be supplemented with vfx artists as the appetite for such work grew. What we, the visual effects artists too easily forget, particularly those of us who work in VFX production specialized houses and are isolated from the greater production is precisely the broader perspective. We are not isolated guns for hire who come in churn out product and move on, but we are a part of a greater creative process, a collective of artists who made the elements we use to add our artistic touch to. The production pipeline does not start with modeling, texture, rigging, animation, fx, lighting and compositing as we are accustomed to think of, but far earlier with cameramen and women, actors, screenwriters, set, lighting and makeup, as well as directors, runners, gaffers and best boys and girls.
    It is time that we bridged the divide as there is strength in unity.

  2. anon_ymous says:

    Isn’t William Gibson a son of Vancouver?

    nuf said.

  3. Aaron says:

    Working in the Visual Effects community in Vancouver and around the world one thing everyone is saying is that we do NOT want IATSE to represent Visual Effects Artist.
    IATSE needs to stop pushing a union and really leave us alone!

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