Rainmaker looks to rule CG with Mainframe pickup

Vancouver’s top post-production shop, Rainmaker, is buying Mainframe Entertainment for $13.8 million – a move announced July 20 that stands to create the largest animation and visual effects house in Canada.

Rainmaker is acquiring all shares of the CG animation shop and has promoted Warren Franklin, former president of Rainmaker’s animation and effects operations, to CEO following the departure of Mark Prior.

Franklin will run the new company – which has yet to be officially named – with Mainframe CEO Rick Mischel, although the latter’s title has not been determined.

‘By joining our two companies together, we will finally have the capacity and critical mass to make major feature animation films right here in Vancouver,’ says Franklin.

The new company is expected to keep the Rainmaker name and will have some 300 staff. Barry Chambers will continue to helm Rainmaker’s lab and post-production services. Prior will stay on as a consultant during the transition.

When most companies consolidate, ‘everyone thinks of layoffs. We’re the opposite,’ says Franklin. ‘We can shift artists from one project to the other.’

Rainmaker is buying a 62% stake in Mainframe from U.S.-based animation maker IDT, which took it over in 2003. Franklin notes that IDT is spinning off the entertainment side of its business following its buyout by Liberty Media. The deal was ‘good timing,’ he says.

When the transaction closes on July 31, Rainmaker plans to acquire the balance of the company from minority shareholders such as Working Opportunity Fund.

Shares of the Rainmaker Income Fund were steady at about $3.30 on the Toronto Stock Exchange following news of the deal. Rainmaker has been in expansion mode recently, and last year opened an FX and animation facility in the U.K. Now it will also make use of Mainframe’s office in L.A.

The deal marks Rainmaker’s first foray into production.

‘We can combine our resources to build an animated feature film technical and creative pipeline,’ says Franklin. ‘And being here in Canada and having the digital animation and visual effects tax credit available – and the other incentives to work up here – gives us great potential for U.S. and European copros.’

Its first CG-animated feature will be Escape from Planet Earth, which was in the works at Mainframe for The Weinstein Company.

The idea to join forces goes back a year and a half, when Franklin first met Mischel.

‘We talked about developing a feature animation studio in Vancouver. We shared a similar vision, and the more we talked, we realized the best thing to do was combine both companies and utilize the lab,’ says Franklin.

‘A lot of what Mainframe has been doing recently is higher-end direct-to-video features like Stuart Little 3 and Popeye, and we have been doing feature film visual effects,’ he adds, including The Da Vinci Code and the upcoming Will Ferrell comedy Blades of Glory.

‘Vancouver is going to be the place, the hub, for animation and visual effects. London has 4,000 people working in this industry and we’ll be seeing that one day in Vancouver,’ he enthuses. In the spring, L.A.-based Vanguard Animation and IDT announced plans for a new animation studio in nearby Burnaby, BC.

Mainframe, founded in 1993, created ReBoot, the world’s first completely computer-generated TV series. It is known chiefly as a service provider, having worked on Mattel’s Barbie video franchise and direct-to-video releases of Casper, Popeye and Hot Wheels. Latest on the slate is the CG-animated direct-to-DVD skateboarding feature, Tony Hawk, due via FUNimation this fall.



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