Wellywood has its WETA, and Auckland may soon have something to match, after the launch of what is slated as New Zealand's biggest purpose built computer generated (CG) animation studio, Oktobor Animation.
Bruce Everett, Oktobor's general manager, says the joint venture between Auckland based digi-visual boffins Oktobor (and its parent company Omnilab Media) and US company Backyard Animated Pictures will initially be servicing the Nickelodeon Studios and creating multiple CG animated television series for it.
"We have already secured a long-term contract which will see Oktobor Animation working on several high profile and highly rated television series including 'The Penguins of Madagascar', based on the hit DreamWorks animated feature," says Everett. "Production has already commenced and currently our staff number 30."
But that number is set to grow rapidly: by mid-next year he expects to have a crew of over 120 artists and technicians and hopes to provide up to 300 jobs over the first four years.
“Over the next three years Oktobor Animation will become an international hub for Nickelodeon’s rising number of CG productions, giving Auckland a major international presence in the growing longform CG animation industry," Everett says.
Oktobor Animation will also provide openings to regional CG artists, offering up to fifteen three-month paid internships up to four times per year to top graduates of local NZQA schools and between 120-140 contract jobs at their Auckland facility.
It's huge news for the New Zealand animation scene and Everett says it took many months planning and negotiation with both Nickelodeon and Backyard to come to fruition.
“We began initial discussions with Backyard and presented our proposal for Oktobor Animation to Nickelodeon early this year. I must say the Post, Digital and Visual Effects rebate has been a key economic driver in helping us bring this business into the Auckland area. We have received invaluable assistance from the Ministry of Economic Development, as well as input from New Zealand Film Commission and Film New Zealand in order to make this business opportunity viable.”
The new dream team seems like a match made in heaven: Oktobor, which was formed in 2001, has worked with Kraft Malaysia, McDonald’s, Vodafone, M1, Tiger Beer, Lexus, Sony and Singapore Airlines and is internationally renowned for its high-end visual effects for television commercials (it won this award last week) and feature films, interactive and entertainment productions. And Backyard, which was formed in California in 1997 as a CG studio, has provided narrative content and services for clients including 20th Century Fox, EMI, Classic Media, and CCI and interactive content for Electronic Arts and Activision.
The previous management of Backyard is now working at Oktobor Animation, with Chris Waters, Rob DiFiglia, Jason Adams and Dan Wang bringing their high-end animation pipeline and production expertise to the new venture.
"As more and more broadcast animated content transitions from traditional hand-drawn 2D production, which has a long established 40 year history in South Korea and other parts of Asia, to CG animation, Oktobor Animation will build on the reputation New Zealand has created through unparalleled feature visual effects into longform CG animation. We are already well into our first three CG productions for Nickelodeon and I’m delighted to say, we are in advanced discussions on many others from interested studio and production partners around the world.”
Omnilab Media managing director Christopher Mapp says Oktobor Animation has been inspired by the success of WETA, whose success is owed in part to the strong commitment made by the New Zealand government to incentivise international producers to bring their films to the region.
"We believe there is a substantial opportunity to extend this success to the television VFX and animation arena by establishing Auckland as the viable and competitive production hub for longform CG animation. Hence our significant financial commitment in Oktobor Animation. We also have a strong belief in the New Zealand market as a whole and will continue to invest in more and projects as this vibrant market continues to develop.”
Omnilab Media is Australia and New Zealand’s largest, privately owned, vertically integrated content development and media service business, and it's the driving force behind such ventures as Dr. D, the new digital film-making studio with Dr. George Miller and KMM, which is working on Happy Feet 2 and Mad Max 4.
The official ‘red ribbon’ opening of Oktobor Animation, which will include leading New Zealand industry figures and senior executives from Nickelodeon and Omnilab Media, is scheduled for early November 2010.