Arise, Penguins of Oktobor

Plenty of back patting and flute chinking ensued at last week’s official opening of Oktobor Animation in Auckland. And fair enough, too, because it’s now New Zealand’s largest purpose-built CG animation studio and it’s already working away on some rather large international projects, including DreamWorks’ Penguins of Madagascar, a spin-off of the massive hit movie Madagascar. No pressure, then.
Oktobor has been plying its trade as a visual effects and digital creative outfit since 2001, but it recently joined forces with Backyard Animated Pictures in the US to launch a CG animation studio, largely to service media goliath Nickelodeon.

Launch party schmoozers were treated to a viewing of the first episode of Penguins of Madagascar after a powhiri welcome. Special guests included Supermayor Len Brown, Dr Wayne Mapp, minister of research, science and technology and Nickelodeon Animation Studios senior vice president and general manager Mark Taylor.

Oktobor and Backyard presented a proposal to Nickelodeon earlier this year and the long-term contract ensures full-time work at Oktobor for its 80 current staff, which will increase to 120 by mid-2011. Oktobor’s managing director Bruce Everett anticipates the studio will provide up to 300 jobs over the next four years and will offer several paid internships to top CG graduates of NZQA institutions nationwide. There’s even talk there might not be enough talent to fill the upcoming demand.

“The Post, Digital and Visual Effects rebate has been a key economic driver in helping us bring this business into the Auckland area,” Everett says. “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.”

So the future is certainly a bit brighter for NZ’s animati digerati and for students wanting to enter the industry. Everett is confident that “Oktobor Animation will become a hub for Nickelodeon’s rising number of CG productions, giving Auckland a major international presence in the growing longform CG animation industry … and will also create a much-needed identity for the growing pool of CG artists in the Auckland region.”

Oktobor is owned by Omnilab Media, Australia and New Zealand’s largest, privately owned media production and content development business, and managing director Christopher Mapp is also determined to put Auckland on the world animation stage.

“Oktobor Animation is 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.”

Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private may live in Central Park Zoo, but their roots are now set to be 100% pure New Zealand.

For even more Oktoborfest, Campbell Live talked to a few of the main protagonists at the opening.

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