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Disney / Pixar Move North

Here’s a little bit of unexpected and pleasant news for us Canuks. It seems that Disney and Pixar are setting up a brand new multi-million dollar animation studio in Vancouver. While the studio won’t be producing full length movies, they WILL be animating all the big characters like Woody and Buzz for DVD’s, games and theme parks. Pixar’s next movie ‘Up’ hits theaters May 29.

Woody and Buzz are heading north.

To accommodate a growing slate of nonfeature projects, Disney and Pixar will launch an animation studio in the fall in Vancouver.

The focus will be on Pixar’s legacy characters, including Buzz and Woody from the “Toy Story” films and Lightning McQueen and Mater from “Cars.”

“The operation will be small in size and dedicated to producing short-form quality computer animation for theme parks, DVDs, television and theatrical exhibition … for several different divisions of the Walt Disney Co.,” Disney/Pixar president Ed Catmull said.

Amir Nasrabadi, vp operations and finance at DisneyToon Studio, has been tapped as GM of the new facility, and Dylan Brown — previously a supervising animation director at Pixar, with credits including “Ratatouille” and “Finding Nemo” — will serve as creative director. Darwyn Peachey moves from technical lead on the 3-D versions of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” to chief technology officer at the Vancouver location.

The trio will report to Ali Rowghani, Disney/Pixar’s CFO and senior vp strategic planning.

Pixar GM Jim Morris said he expects the staff to reach 75-100. He added that feature work and all stereoscopic 3-D work will still be done at Pixar’s headquarters in Emeryville, Calif.

The move marks the latest company to open a VFX or animation facility in Vancouver. Other residents include Rainmaker, an animation company; CIS Vancouver, a Deluxe-owned VFX business; and Moving Picture Co., a Technicolor-owned VFX facility.

Tax incentives, a local talent base and proximity to Pixar contributed to the decision. Pixar will receive incentives offered for animation production and research and development.

“Canada, and Vancouver specifically, has had terrific tax incentives for this type of work,” Morris said. “I think they have a desire to grow this sort of business activity and get a critical mass. This will allow us to do more with the budgets that we have.”

He said the intent is to build the studio as a start-up with local talent. “There is a great animation community in Vancouver, as well as postproduction, visual effects and good schools,” he added.

Morris said Pixar would step up production of its character-based ancillary content at the new venue.

“We have a somewhat unfulfilled demand,” he said. “We wanted to do various things with ‘Toy Story’ to keep the characters alive. People like to see them somewhat regularly.” He pointed to Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter, who would like to do more with the “Cars” characters.

Pixar has a full slate of upcoming titles — some sequels and some introducing new characters. “Up,” the studio’s 10th computer-animated feature and first to release in digital 3-D, opens May 29 and introduces new characters, including elderly Carl Fredricksen and young wilderness explorer Russell.

The 3-D releases of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” bring Woody, Buzz and the toys back to theaters Oct. 2.

Current film projects at Pixar, which employees about 1,000, are the 3-D features “Toy Story 3,” “Cars 2,” “The Bear and the Bow” and “Newt.” The studio also is developing a series of shorts based on the Mater character from “Cars” as well as theme park projects.


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