The animation studio that played a key role in bringing movie Sonic’s redesign to life will not be around to see the finished product make it to theaters.
The Vancouver arm of MPC, a visual FX studio that’s part of a set of sister studios in several other cities, shut down without warning on Wednesday, two weeks before the end-of-year Holidays, according to Cartoon Brew. The website reports that the studio “played a significant role in the recent redesign” of Sonic in the upcoming film.
When the movie redesign was revealed in November, its key architect, Tyson Hesse, thanked teams in Vancouver, London, and Los Angeles–all locations where MPC has a presence.
Honored to have been brought in to lead the design on the new Movie Sonic. Working with Jeff and the modelers, riggers, texture/fur artists and animators in LA, London, and Vancouver was a thrill I'll never forget. #SonicMovie pic.twitter.com/HhcVIxAhXB
— Tyson Hesse (@tyson_hesse) November 12, 2019
UPDATE: This evening, Hesse mourned the closure of the studio, but made no mention of reports circulating that VFX teams were subject to “crunch” working conditions:
Truly gutted to hear of the layoffs at MPC Vancouver. On top of their incredible work bringing Movie Sonic to life, these people were behind everything from Pikachu to Godzilla. It’s been such a rough couple of years for Vancouver VFX, games and animation. They all deserve more.
— Tyson Hesse (@tyson_hesse) December 12, 2019
It is unknown how many positions were eliminated as a result of the shutdown. Cartoon Brew notes that at its strongest point in 2013, the division employed some 800 people.
With the sudden shutdown, sordid details are coming out about working conditions ahead of the closure. A Reddit post alleged to be from an unidentified laid off employee claims said employee and other, now unemployed team members, worked “extreme hours wrapping two infamous projects in the last couple of months.” The Sonic movie was not mentioned by name in relation, and some have speculated at least one of the projects may be the upcoming theatrical release of Cats. MPC has also been tied to this year’s release of The Lion King. None of these titles are mentioned by name, either. Further, TSSZ cannot confirm the authenticity of the poster’s identity, who wrote under the pseudonym Captin_Krobin.
According to a follow-up post by the alleged ex-employee, much of what is described would fall under what’s considered crunch, extreme and typically illegal working conditions imposed to meet tight deadlines:
…we were working with no days off for weeks straight with plenty of 17+ shifts thrown in the mix. Sometimes three or four in a row, though.
Very rarely were people doing less than 10 hours in a day. If you wanted to leave after your eight hours, you had to ask permission to go home. Didn’t want to work OT at the weekend? You had to give a satisfactory reason as to why you couldn’t do it or they’d label it an unauthorized absence.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I obliged with requests because I felt if I didn’t, I’d be quickly replaced by someone who is willing to do the hours, be that for the experience or IMDb credit or whatever. That happened to two or three people while I was there.
UPDATE: The above quoted material has been deleted from Reddit by its original author. We have elected to keep the material posted here.
There is now concern these working conditions may be illegal under the labor laws of British Columbia, and uncertainty that employees may not have been given proper severance.
All of this, if even by tangential involvement, would conflict with earlier reports that suggested no crunch time was or would be imposed on VFX artists during the redesign process – including, most significantly, the inference of Sonic movie director Jeff Fowler, who playfully suggested when announcing the movie’s delay in May that crunch time was not an option.
— Jeff Fowler (@fowltown) May 24, 2019
The news also breaks shortly after a Sonic fan site in Argentina was compelled to remove an unflattering interview conducted with an animator involved with the Sonic movie redesign, after a threat of legal action on the site. That interview–though we cannot republish it to protect the original source–suggested there was no crunch imposed on the movie. TSSZ has independently confirmed the animator interviewed, whose name we are withholding, was part of MPC Vancouver.
This story is sure to evolve quickly in the coming days. We will stay on top of any new developments. And if you were impacted by the layoffs and can corroborate or clarify any of the above details, please send us a news tip or DM us on Twitter – anonymity guaranteed.