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Ubisoft ramps up in T.O.
by: May 10, 2010 Print

With $806 million to invest in the local entertainment industry, and jobs for almost 1,000 technical- and creative-oriented people, Ubisoft has officially arrived in Toronto.

Ubi is ramping up its presence as the first major video game publisher to set up shop in Ontario, building its HQ out of an old GE plant, which will evolve into what the company hopes will be the second largest of its global studios - just behind its digs in Montreal, of course.

At the helm is studio head Jade Raymond, who's received more than 2,000 resumés for a range of positions that span all aspects of the entertainment industry. Armed with a $263 million cash infusion from the provincial government, along with an additional $543 million boost from Ubisoft, Raymond says the bulk of the money is being poured into job creation. Forty employees are already on board and that number should hit 150 by year's end, eventually growing to 800 over the next decade.

"For the moment, we're building the infrastructure on the more technical side, and then we'll focus on finding the key creative roles next, which will include an animation director, storyboard artists and writers," says the Montreal native, adding that she also wants strong, experienced writers to concentrate on enhancing in-game dialogue.

The number of applicants thus far has been a melting pot of grads from schools in Ontario - Sheridan College, University of Waterloo, University of Toronto - as well as candidates from the all-encompassing entertainment industry. "We've had a lot of people reaching out from the film and TV fields who want to work in video games," notes Raymond. "We've even been getting interest from Canadians who've either gone out of province or left the country to work in the industry because there were no opportunities before."

A few members from Ubi Montreal will also be arriving to round out the Toronto team, including creative director Max Béland (Splinter Cell), audio director Fabien Noël and producer Alex Parizeau. In fact, locking down sound designers, editors and composers will be top of mind when Noël settles in.

A new position that Raymond says is vital to the important growth of cinematics in video games is the newly hired technical director of scripted event David Riganelli. Since longer cutscenes (movie-esque sequences) have become a growing trend in games, Raymond wants to see more of what she calls "Hollywood 'wow' moments." (continued on p. 20)

Cutscenes are meant to advance the plot and characters through background details and dialogue, but they also temporarily pull the player away from the game physically. "It's really an important part of the production and needs to be understood by someone with the tech experience, but who can also bring the Hollywood experience to everyone," she explains.

Toronto's existing talent pool in the areas of production, animation and effects is an obvious draw for the game publisher. "With our convergence strategy, we see games as the future of entertainment," states Raymond. "It's already a mass-market medium and is on par with any Hollywood blockbuster movie."

And while Ubisoft may be a ways off from completing any acquisitions à la its acquisition of Montreal VFX studio Hybride Technologies two years ago, Raymond says that working with local producers and effects houses is definitely on her priority list.

So to find a place for nearly 1,000 people, Ubi snapped up a massive five-floor building near Bloor Street and Lansdowne Avenue, which is currently undergoing a major revamp. The first floor is mainly comprised of other businesses, but Ubi will eventually take control of the whole building. A tour of the 20,000-plus-square-foot second floor reveals what Raymond and her team have in store for the expansive space, including plans to build a fully equipped in-house sound studio, as well as long-term plans to accommodate a motion-capture studio. But the latter is down the road and in the meantime, Ubi plans to work with third parties for its mo-cap needs.

The space will be undergoing multiple construction phases, and Raymond's vision is big on fostering creativity and teamwork in the workplace. She's thought of everything from whiteboard-covered walls in meeting rooms for literally jotting down ideas, a game room complete with a game library for drawing inspiration, and including Nerf guns in employee welcome packages.

At press time, Raymond was close to announcing what IPs the Toronto studio would be delving into, though remained tight-lipped as to whether or not they would be original properties or existing franchises. However, she indicated that they will be massive initiatives, with two producers heading up a duo of teams comprising 250 people.

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