Vancouver career fair for screen-based industries proves the city’s leadership in animation, effects, and gaming

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      There’s a good reason why Vancouver is known colloquially as Hollywood North. Not only does it feature as the backdrop for movies from Fifty Shades of Grey to Deadpool, it’s also the home of animation studios such as Industrial Light & Magic and Image Engine—responsible for the visual effects in household names like Star Wars and Game of Thrones. With increasing numbers of big-budget productions choosing the city, the call for talent is enormous. 

      If last weekend’s careers fair for digital entertainment is anything to go by, however, there’s plenty of qualified professionals ready to meet those demands.

      More than 3,500 individuals registered to attend the event at the Convention Centre—a 40 percent increase over the previous year, according to the event organizers at the Vancouver Economic Commission. Lining the aisles between jobseekers were booths from 35 top local studios, including Sony Pictures Imageworks, Animal Logic, and Stargate Studios. Together they were offering more than 500 jobs.

      Unsurprisingly, it was bustling.

      One of the longest lines belonged to Bardel Entertainment: the local company behind well-known hits like Rick and Morty and Angry Birds Blues. Operating in the city since 1987, the studio was looking to fill a number of roles in animation, including character designers and background artists.

      “The careers fair is a great place to find local talent,” Mark Van Ee, a line producer at Bardel, tells the Straight at the event. “There are tons of great professionals in Vancouver. Our studio, and pretty much every other studio that I’ve talked to, are all hiring because it’s just so busy. There’s so much stuff coming in from the States. The work is here because of the tax credits and the dollar. The lower the dollar drops, the better it is for us, because it’s cheaper for America to pay us to do animation. The tax credits mean they get also a big percentage back for employing us. There’s so much talent here, it’s not hard for us to find people.”

      Animation may be one area where the city is on a hiring frenzy, but visual effects companies are just as enthusiastic to sign on jobseekers. With its long-established legacy in Vancouver—local VFX businesses have been recognized as world-leaders for over 40 years—studios are often inundated with work. As well as scoping out good talent, though, those companies were also looking for ways to develop local professionals, regardless of whether they’d like them to join their teams.

      “As well as coming to the careers fair to fill positions, we also go so we can feel like we’re giving back to the community,” Lindsey Neyman, a talent development manager at visual effects giant FuseFX, tells the Straight. “That’s especially true of juniors coming through who are looking for feedback on their reels, or looking for internship positions. That said, we specialize in television episodics, so we’re always looking out for competent professionals to advance our studio. We worked on 70 percent of the shows that went on air last year, so we’ve touched most TV series out there.”

      For FuseFX, Vancouver is an important location to find new employees.

      “We have studios in Los Angeles, New York City, and Vancouver,” she continues. “I’m actually located in our L.A. office, and I recruit for all three cities. But we don’t go to any other career fairs. We only come to the ones in Vancouver because the talent pool is so great.”

      The city’s expertise is not just limited to movies and films. Animation and design are just as important to the region’s thriving videogame industry—an ecosystem that includes giants such as EA Canada, the powerhouse behind titles like FIFA and NHL, and huge numbers of independent studios. Alongside the city’s mobile and console game creators, the fair this year added a number of rising stars in the virtual reality sector, including LlamaZOO and Archiact—the latter of which used its time in the Speakers Corner to detail how the company takes a risk with off-the-wall concepts. With a huge variety of platforms, styles, and ethos to choose from, jobseekers could discover the best home for their talents.

      “When someone comes up to our booth, we can help to advise them on what career path to take, especially when talking to students,” Megan Ritchie, a recruiter at mobile gaming studio A Thinking Ape, tells the Straight. “I love the visibility of the career fair, because there are so many backgrounds that people have which would be great for a career in the videogame industry, but no-one in university is pushing you towards that. I’m hoping to help people see that it’s a possibility for them.

      “We are very selective and picky about how we hire,” she continues. “We’d rather not hire than hire the wrong person for the role. Especially as a smaller company, we’ll take the time and put in a lot of resources to make sure we’re taking the best person for that role, so that when they come on board we feel really confident that they can take ownership of that game. That’s one of our key values—that people can own their output, and we don’t watch over their shoulders. We go through a long process, but if it takes us six months to hire that role but it’s the right person, it’s worth it for us. We’ve actually been profitable since we launched our first game, and we care about growing in a very sustainable way.

      "We’ve always been focused on building these huge communities within our games," she concludes. "Vancouver is a great place to do that from." 

      Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays