Innovation: The One Constant in Entertainment


Dave Rosenbaum, Nick Glassman and Tyler Werrin

While Canada has established itself as a nexus of film technology talent, especially in animation, most people don’t realize just how much Canadian-created content they’re looking at when they’re watching a film. Not only are Canadian companies like Cinesite creating our culture, but by constantly adapting creatively in one of technology’s most rapidly-evolving environments, they’re setting a standard for innovation.

At the intersection of creativity and technology, innovation and entertainment collide. Starting with the Frenchman Louis Lumiere’s motion picture camera in 1895 and the American Thomas Edison’s Vitascope projector in 1896, the goal to entertain drove some of the largest technological innovations of the 20th century. The 1920s brought lighting and film exposure techniques in pursuit of motion pictures, the 1930s and 40s introduced broadcasting, the 1950s and 60s delivered televisions into every modern home, the 1970s and 1980s brought cassettes, CDs and DVDs to make media mobile, and the 1990s ended this century of rapid evolution with the digitizing, storing and distribution of high definition quality media. The one constant in entertainment was—and is—innovation.

For 25 years, Cinesite Studios, a powerhouse in visual effects and animation in Montreal, Vancouver and London, has thrived on bridging creativity and technology. From work on blockbusters like Avengers: Infinity War, Jurassic World and every Harry Potter film, to animated projects like The Addams Family, Riverdance and Harold Lloyd, Cinesite operates as a catalyst for studios, investors and artists to reach global audiences.

Cinesite uniquely combines three filmmaking businesses: 1) Visual effects for major movie blockbusters, 2) Production service partnerships with other studios, and 3) Original animated feature films. This structure of three businesses within one company is an enterprising approach that hedges investments, maximizes talent and necessitates constant ingenuity.

This decade has changed the film industry, with subscription video on-demand services like NETFLIX, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu expanding the options of how and what content reaches audiences. Cinesite, in partnership with the Canadian government, is creating, marketing and distributing films that take advantage of this dramatic and fundamental shift. But for growth in Montreal and Vancouver to succeed, there must also be a diverse talent pool that constantly improves and is challenged. Canada’s enticing tax credits have made it a global leader in the gaming industry, welcoming Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Gameloft, BioWare and others. This was an excellent start.

More investments in other growing technical industries have also resulted in a rising talent pool of engineers, designers, artists, product managers and producers. This, combined with many imaginative start-up companies, has produced a sophisticated culture and cutting-edge infrastructure that are proving indispensable to Canada’s economic growth in the billion-dollar entertainment industry.

Cinesite in particular is growing in scope and scale, aiming to create one thousand jobs by year’s end. The sheer variety of opportunities offer Cinesite unparalleled and unique flexibility within the industry—and the company has created 500 jobs in both Montreal and Vancouver. The intricacies and idiosyncratic parameters each global client demands from Cinesite have fueled its knowledge base. The collaborative and egalitarian atmosphere of a wide variety of product enables Cinesite to build a vast and extensive library of experiences and innovations. 

Part of innovation is research, which is borne through the exchange of ideas. Each client has certain expectations for how their films should be produced, created and inevitably delivered, from budget to picture quality to distribution methods. This robust intake of information is invaluable research that Cinesite tests equally; the most successful methods circle back, benefiting all.

Cinesite further fills in the gaps between budgets, schedules, and talent with an original content slate designed and developed to target different and distinct audiences. Essentially, one studio is able to effectively appeal to a wide range of financial opportunities, a breadth of studios’ brands, a variety of distribution needs and the gamut of audiences’ tastes. 

This production strategy also allows for the filmmakers themselves to explore new techniques, create more niche films and work on projects that may be deemed too risky for traditional studios. When a studio can create projects that take more risks, it attracts riskier filmmakers. And riskier filmmakers tend to be more innovative. In creating movies that appeal to uniquely targeted audiences, the consumer wins. No longer does one film have to be all things to all people; each film can be something to someone. 

Thanks to the generous tax subsidies provided by Canada, we’re able to further impact the quality of our original slate by reinvesting the tax credits back into the films, not increasing the budgets, simply budgeting less from the start. What was a $100 million movie ten years ago can now be accomplished at a fraction of the cost thanks to innovation’s advancements in technology, Canada’s progressive tax strategies and Cinesite’s dynamic business model. Bonus: because each movie is produced at a much lower cost, recouping initial investment is quicker, the economy is stimulated faster and the desire to reinvest is heightened. 

But, it’s one thing to make movies in Canada; it’s quite another to sell them to the world. As Cinesite continues to partner with other movie studios to find theatrical success, there is additional opportunity to leverage the way viewers now engage with films. Over the past decade, filmmakers have shifted from traditional Hollywood techniques to sell their films. Today’s fans are less engaged by traditional film marketing, which is limited to repurposed images and brief outtakes of the film into billboards and television commercials. Fans now have near-infinite content choices in the palm of their hand and are therefore harder to focus and entertain. The trend now is to capitalize on social content, games and advanced technologies like augmented reality to draw in customers immune to stale marketing. To successfully brand a new film, fans now expect custom content crafted by the same filmmakers behind the film. Cinesite is actively and aggressively pursuing these complementary avenues of engagements as a vital part of our overall strategy.

Marketing used to start once a film was nearly completed, but the core creative teams who worked on the films had moved onto new projects. A disconnected creative team, often an external agency, devised and executed their own marketing strategy. While this was manageable in traditional print advertising and trailers, it is a significant challenge on platforms requiring much more elaborate custom content for burgeoning new media ecosystems. 

To solve this, Cinesite is innovating the way digital and marketing are funded and created by making it a part of the production. At Cinesite, digital and marketing efforts begin when a film goes into production, rather than once the film is near completion. This parallel approach allows us to pair the film creators with digital experts at an early stage, allowing the two groups to build story-driven interactive content. Fans want to be immersed in the world of the film to meet the characters in depth and to do this successfully, the filmmakers must fundamentally be involved. The good news is that the most creative and innovative filmmakers always want to be intrinsically involved and the studio need only adapt. Be it through visual effects for major movie blockbusters, production service partnerships with other studios or original animated feature films, audiences never tire of being entertained. Cinesite has a foothold in all three, so the studio is well- positioned to capitalize on opportunities that come its way.

There are two kinds of innovation: The first is when you see an opportunity, define a plan, then execute it in a controlled manner. The second is when you fail to react to the market and are forced to change with less planning, all the while fighting the temptation to do nothing and hope the innovation isn’t required. The thing is, innovation is ineluctable and inevitable. If you don’t do the first, controlled innovation, you’ll end up doing the second, forced innovation anyway, and at greater cost. Cinesite, thanks to Canada’s support to grow creative and technical industries, is positioning Montreal and Vancouver to be innovative leaders in this next paradigm shift within the entertainment industry. 


Dave Rosenbaum is Cinesite’s Chief Creative Officer, Nick Glassman is Cinesite’s Chief Digital Officer and Tyler Werrin is Cinesite’s Head Writer.