MPC (Moving Picture Company), a powerful visual effects production company with multiple locations around the world, has reportedly shut down its Vancouver studio. Hundreds of people have undoubtedly been laid off (the Vancouver Sun reports that it once employed 800 artists); the move follows an earlier announcement that MPC Vancouver would help redesign the title character of the forthcoming Sonic the Hedgehog film.
The animated video game icon’s live-action feature film was originally slated for a November 8, 2019 release. However, following widespread fan backlash against a trailer featuring a new CGI design for Sonic that clashed with his classic image, it was announced in May 2019 that the VFX team would redesign Sonic into something more familiar; a delayed release date wasn’t announced for several weeks, prompting widespread concerns about “crunch” (in which artists and designers work long hours, often without overtime pay, to complete projects in time), as well as budgetary restrictions.
Reportedly, the redesign cost less than $5 million; a source close to the project told IndieWire that the majority of the VFX for the film hadn’t been completed by the time the first trailer was released.
However, even now that the film is scheduled for February 14, 2020, crunch time was likely still an issue. There’s a larger conversation to be had about the pressure a move like a major redesign puts on VFX artists, as crunch is also a widespread problem within the animation industry and video games. Worse yet, after what must have been an exhausting past several months as the Vancouver team scrambled to finish in time, the studio’s shuttering took place right before the holiday season.
According to the Vancouver Sun, “Messages to MPC and its parent company Technicolor confirming the closure have yet to be returned.” News of the studio’s closing first spread through a Reddit thread and an apparent screenshot of the parent company’s letter to employees on Imgur. However, chatter among MPC Vancouver employees via social media appear to be consistent with the initial claims.
According to Cartoon Brew, “there has been word of significant staff reductions at other Vancouver vfx shops, including ILM, Pixomondo, and Method, as other cities have started to offer more attractive tax credits.”
This is the studio responsible for bringing the nearly photorealistic jungle animals of this summer’s “live-action” remake of The Lion King to life. The Disney film grossed $1.656 billion worldwide, breaking records including 7th highest-grossing film of all time, and highest-grossing animated film of all time. Last week, it received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Animated Feature Film, and will likely be a contender for the same category of the Academy Awards.
The Lion King was hardly MPC Vancouver’s first triumph. Throughout its various international locations, MPC has contributed VFX to blockbusters like 2016’s The Jungle Book (also directed by The Lion King’s Jon Favreau, and also a CGI-heavy “live-action” remake of an animated Disney classic), Justice League, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. MPC Vancouver in particular boasts an Academy Award for its visual effects work in The Life of Pi.
However Technicolor and other powerhouses of the visual effects industry may be reshaping, MPC Vancouver’s closure is a troubling development. By all indications, it was as successful as a studio could conceivably be, with award-winning visual wizardry lent to several Hollywood cash cows. What this means for Disney, the visual effects industry, and professional artists of all stripes remains to be seen.