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City's first animation studio opens

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Winnipeg is turning into 'Toon Town.

The Winnipeg company Opus Visual Effects, partnered with Buffalo Gal Pictures, will become the city's first dedicated animation studio with a projected staff of 45 animators. Buffalo Gal, in collaboration with Toronto production company Entremedia Digital Films Inc. will be producing its first feature film.

Buffalo Gal Pictures president Phyllis Laing announced the project Tuesday morning at Cinematheque, where they previewed concept footage of the film Emma's Wings: A Bella Sara Tale. The first animated feature to be produced in Winnipeg is based on an 18-book fantasy series from Denmark. Emma's Wings is based on the first two books.

"This has enormous potential as a franchise," Laing said after the news conference.

Already, the project has initiated an employment growth spurt in Opus Visual Effects, which was formed by members of Frantic Film's crackerjack visual effects department. Frantic sold the visual effects division to the Indian company Prime Focus in 2007.

"Prime Focus decided to shut down their visual effects in Winnipeg in 2009, and they shifted all their focus to Vancouver," says Opus vice president Conrad Dueck. "A pretty large chunk of artists here in Winnipeg had no employment and that's when we decided to start Opus Visual Effects."

Opus creative director Christine Albers says the animation division of the company is already expanding.

"We have eight people in the animation division and that will eventually grow to 45 while the visual effects division will hire five to 10 people within the next year," she says, adding that this new project demonstrates the city has the artistic talent to take on bigger projects.

"No one seemed to realize the potential," Alvers says. "It seemed fairly opportunistic of us to realize we could do it here, but we are doing it here."

"We're really looking forward to this particular project being something that will help build our studio," Dueck says. "It should provide a lot of fun times over the next few years."

Emma's Wings: A Bella Sara Tale is expected to be released in 2013.

-- Randall King

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 19, 2012 D2

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