British Columbia’s film industry, which for most of the past two decades commanded the lion’s share of foreign-funded service production in Canada, has fallen on lean times. But that slowdown is not at all evident in the new media and visual effects sub-sector. Companies such as Look Effects, Image Engine and Sony Pictures Imageworks have been scoring major deals and staffing up.
Perhaps the fastest-growing player in this space is Gener8 Digital Media Corp., which has made 100 new hires (doubling its head count) since October and expects to hire 40 to 50 more by the end of March. And now it’s branching out from its bread-and-butter business converting two-dimensional movies to 3-D to digital distribution.
“From the start we had a bigger vision of disrupting the digital and media industries,” says CEO Rory Armes, better known as the founder Radical Entertainment, for many years the No. 2 video game studio in Vancouver behind Electronic Arts (it was sold to Vivendi Universal Entertainment in 2005 and reduced to a software support office in 2012). Gener8 started in 2011 with a software product that automated part of the task of turning 2-D to 3-D and a studio filled with live compositors to do the rest. It’s landed major-studio business with movies including Harry Potter and The Amazing Spider-Man, and is now making the process affordable for producers lower down the entertainment industry food chain. On Feb. 3, it announced a three-picture deal with local animation company Rainmaker Entertainment that includes the upcoming release Sly Cooper.
But the company is taking a still more ambitious flyer on direct-to-consumer content distribution by buying 48% of another Vancouver startup, Reelhouse Media Ltd. for the equivalent of $1.1 million. Armes calls the investment “incubation.” Reelhouse has developed a beta version of a site where content creators can sell movies and videos on a subscription basis, sell a la carte per download, crowd-fund through social media, or offer their work for free. The majority of its current content is from independent filmmakers, but it’s also attracted the attention of bigger names such as the Sundance Film Festival and Warner Bros. For a major entertainment company, “it’s a one-stop shop for marketing, trailers, all the way through to selling merchandise,” Armes says.
Of course, this is an area already swarming with competition from Netflix to cable companies to iTunes and Amazon, making Reelhouse something of a long shot. But the market is still hugely fluid and Armes believes the distribution vehicles that offer the best and highest-netback solutions for content creators will win out. “I think the cool thing about our industry right now in new media is that anybody can come in and look at taking over an existing market share. The barriers to entry have really diminished,” he says. Competition is familiar to Armes from his video gaming days and in his estimation 3-D was probably a harder market to penetrate—and Gener8 is already the No. 4 player there.
While some studios still opt for very expensive, high-quality 3-D post-production, Gener8 appears to have hit upon a balance of high quality and affordability that is attractive to many entertainment companies. It can also be integrated with movies shot partly in “native” 3D. “Our method is indistinguishable from what’s filmed with a 3D camera rig,” says chief operating officer Tim Bennison, another Radical alumnus. “I can’t even tell myself which shots were our shots and which were filmed.”
As the Rainmaker deal suggests, Gener8’s process is also cost-competitive in animation, where the 3-D could just as readily be rendered earlier in the production process.
Unlike many in the business of live-action filmmaking, Armes does not fear for the B.C. industry’s future amid competition from Ontario and Quebec with ever more generous tax credits. “I’ve always found that it’s actually where the talent is that matters,” he says. “Vancouver has a massive artistic community that blends [skills in] gaming, the mobile space and visual effects.”