Why a Texas-based animation studio chose Montreal's Pointe-Saint-Charles as its Canadian hub

Texas-based animation studio Reel FX has chosen Montreal as its Canadian hub, a decision that comes with 400 new jobs and over $10 million in investments in the city.

Reel FX's expansion into Montreal will bring 400 new jobs, over $10 million in investments in the city

Reel FX Animation Studios was behind the critically-acclaimed animated feature, The Book of Life, which was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the Golden Globes in 2015. (AP Photo/Twentieth Century Fox)

Animation studio Reel FX has chosen Montreal as its Canadian hub, a decision that comes with 400 new jobs and over $10 million in investments in the city.

Best-known for animated features such as The Book of Life and Free Birds, Reel FX is expanding its studios into Pointe-Saint-Charles.

The company already has footholds in both Dallas and Hollywood, and chose Montreal over Toronto or Vancouver for its third base.
Reel FX CEO Steve O'Brien (middle) at a news conference last month where the Quebec government announced $440,000 in financial assistance. (Reel FX)

Last week, Quebec's Ministry of Employment and Social Solidarity announced $440,000 in subsidies to help the U.S. company set up shop. A recruitment blitz is already underway, with over 60 people hired so far. The rest of the hires will be taking place over the next two and a half years.

Reel FX president and CEO, Steve O'Brien, spoke to CBC Montreal's Daybreak about the details of the expansion, why they picked Montreal and the struggles to recruit hundreds of people in such a short amount of time.

His comments have been edited and condensed for clarity.

On expanding to Montreal

Over the past decades, a great deal of the motion picture production industry has moved out of Los Angeles and largely across the border to Canada. It's because Canada has very aggressively sought out that business and has built really large ecosystems for production.

For us, Montreal offered a great package all together — that includes some of the government incentives that are provided on labour … and the talent pool in Montreal being so large and growing. It's a great city — the cost of living is competitive and better than some of the other Canadian cities we considered.

Everything about Montreal really spoke to us, so it didn't take long for us to decide that's where we wanted to be.

On quality of life for employees

We want our employees to have quality of life. That means affordable things, like housing, and everything else that comes with living in a city. Those savings are passed on to the company, in terms of the wages you have to pay, so everything being more affordable is a big advantage to us.

It makes us more competitive when we're building projects against competitors in those other cities.

On his company's hiring blitz

We've hired just over 60 people in the past two, three months. We have another hundred or so people to try and find by the end of the year, and then upwards from there.
Animation studio Reel FX behind features such as The Book of Life and Free Birds is setting up shop in Pointe-Saint-Charles. (Reel FX)

It's going to be a challenge, and I think it's going to entail moving some people to Montreal from other cities in Canada. We've moved a few from Dallas as well, but only a handful.

On poaching talent

As movies start and stop, naturally people are released and then hired in other places.
Reel FX CEO Steve O'Brien says the company is now on a hiring blitz for its Montreal studios, with plans to hire 400 people by 2020. (Reel FX)

What we've done in the past is that we've collaborated with other studios to say, 'Hey, what does your schedule look like, and let's look at our schedule, and as you release people maybe we can pick them up' or vice versa.

I also think that we need to get more talent into Montreal, and in that regard, a rising tide will raise all boats. If the community is working together and we're bringing business into Montreal — the talent base will grow there. And then, of course, you have great schools and universities that will be kicking out talented young folks.

On working in French

I find it very interesting. I want to learn, or at least muddle my way through the language as soon as I can.

Except for the local movies which will also be, hopefully, participating — the movies are generally made in English.

This industry tends to operate more in English than French, from what I understand. But for us, the language wasn't a big factor. It's just a part of the city that we like. Actually, it's a multicultural aspect of the city that is a good thing.