Vancouver’s Movie Magicians

by Madeline Barber

Vancouverites are used to seeing their home on the big screen. It’s not unusual to be watching a film, when suddenly you recognize the viaduct, catch a glimpse of Grouse Mountain, or even realize the characters are on the same street as your dentist’s office. We have all gotten used to roads being blocked off for filming, but what many may not realize is how much movie magic is created locally after the final scene has been shot.

“A lot of people would be surprised to learn that the effects from their favourite movies are being created just beyond where they’re walking in Gastown.” says Vancouver’s Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) studio Creative Director Jeff White. Located right on Water Street, the special effects studio has worked on films such as Star Wars, Black Panther, and just completed work on Solo. Locals may be across the street, dancing to live music in Guilt & Co, or getting a cocktail at the Diamond, while effects artists are making spaceships explode.

ILM is one of several special effects studios in Vancouver. If you’re a fan of the Hunger Games, you may have strolled by the Embassy studio on West 7th, where the dystopian world was brought to life. If you’re addicted to Game of Thrones, you should know the epic fiery “Battle of Goldroad” in season 7 happened on West 5th at Image Engine studios.

The post-production industry has seen substantial growth in the last 5 years, including the industry in BC. ILM has offices in London, San Francisco, and Singapore, but it’s their Vancouver office that’s the biggest, with around 500 staff members.

While technology is advancing, allowing ILM and other studios to create even more realistic scenes, White says special effects are more about artistry than the technology. Many of us think of CGI (computer generated images) when it comes to effects, but that’s actually a misnomer—think of it more as artist-generated imagery. Oftentimes specialists are great artists first, then find their skills transfer well to post-production in the film industry. “The software provides the tool, but at the end of the day, it’s people working very hard to bring the images to
the screen,” says White.