Animation studio closer to Huntsville’s grasp
Committee stamps lease agreement for 2013
HUNTSVILLE – Muskoka Animation Studio Huntsville seems moments away from signing a lease with the Town of Huntsville.
“The thing that struck me is that they looked at several communities, picked Huntsville and are creating the potential for more than 60 jobs. I would echo the mayor’s comments. I want to see them succeed. Let’s not put anything in their way.”
– Coun. Det Schumacher
Wallace Pidgeon, vice-president of business affairs with the studio, said his company hopes to open its doors at the Waterloo Summit Centre for the Environment in mid-January or early February.
“We’ll have a home and an address, then what we’ll have to do is begin the process of setting the studio up in a very physical way,” said Pidgeon.
Pidgeon and colleague Kevin Hicks approached town council in August to pitch the film production studio as a creative industry that would bring film professionals, educational opportunities, an animation film festival and jobs to the municipality.
The studio’s parent company, Entremedia Digital Films Incorporated, has been animating features and television content since 1985.
Muskoka Animation Studio Huntsville is expected to create 50 to 60 full-time high-technology jobs within its first year. Those jobs will range in salary from $50,000 to $120,000 a year.
The company expects to produce annually up to four animation projects in Huntsville by 2015. Each project will have an annual budget of about $4 million and take between 10 to 24 months to complete.
And as the studio grows, the company hopes to attract post-production, visual effects and motion capture production to the region while establishing a training component as well, said Pidgeon.
But the studio has to set-up shop first.
Pidgeon said once the company has the keys to its new home, it will start purchasing and installing the consoles and desktop equipment for the animators, who will be working on the company’s productions.
“We’ll make sure all the bells and whistles are there,” he said. “As we do that, we’ll be ensuring that we bring in the best and brightest to put our production together.”
The company’s first Huntsville-based production is still in development and Pidgeon was therefore unable to share details of it.
But he said the company would share details about the project as they become available. The company intends to host an open house in the future as well.
Pidgeon said he and his colleagues are excited to come to Muskoka.
He explained that the people working in the industry have expressed an interest in moving out of the urban Toronto setting into a more natural environment.
Huntsville, he said, was a perfect location for that.
“The thing about animation is that it’s not 9-to-5. It really is about a deadline and a workload. It may take 12 hours to do the work one day or four hours the next,” he said. “But at the end of that, what do you want to do? You may want to go ATVing, snowmobiling, snowboarding, fishing or swimming. In the city, the answer might be different, but the talent has said to us that they are looking for a different lifestyle.”
The company’s track record and production quality, coupled with the municipality’s natural setting, will draw industry professionals to the studio and keep them happy, he said.
“We’re responding to what the talent wants and where they want to live,” he said. “And that’s the key. Happy employees, great productions.”
The lease with the town was drafted to start Jan. 1, 2013, but the company is still solidifying public and private funding.
That funding includes a Muskoka Futures business loan expected to be confirmed mid-January.
When the town’s community service committee discussed the lease at its meeting on Nov. 28, it agreed to help the fledging studio by pushing the start date of the lease back by up to two months and waiving rent for up to six months.
After the first six months, the studio would pay $2,366 a month for two rooms on the second floor of the Waterloo building until the end of 2013. The price would go up after that.
Some committee members were concerned about waiving rent for the first six months. But Mayor Claude Doughty said such an arrangement is typical of a commercial lease.
“In this situation, where it’s very significant capital investment and it’s a game changer for our community, I don’t have a problem with six months,” said Doughty. “Creating this entity isn’t just like opening another branch office. This is heavy stuff and they’re doing a great job.”
And he noted the Waterloo building is not bursting with tenants.
“The fact of the matter is, there is no one else at our door. We have this space and we’ve been sitting on it for two years. Let’s go,” he said. “And they’ll be investing heavily in our community, so it’s not like we’re not getting anything out of it.”
Coun. Det Schumacher agreed with supporting the animation company as much as possible.
“I was very taken the day they did their presentation – they were quite animated,” said Schu
macher, who paused as committee members chortled at his quip. “The thing that struck me is that they looked at several communities, picked Huntsville and are creating the potential for more than 60 jobs. I would echo the mayor’s comments. I want to see them succeed. Let’s not put anything in their way.”
Committee members approved the lease agreement and have forwarded it to council for consideration.