Montreal VFX, animation workers feeling effects of tax credit cuts, facing uncertainty

On his first day as an unemployed person, Thai Son Doan donned his "Quebec has lost its effect(s)" shirt and headed to Place de la Dauversière across Montreal's city hall Saturday to join a crowd of members of the shrinking visual effects and animation workforce for a sit-in.

The group hopes the Quebec government will postpone recent amendments to Quebec's tax credit for film production services, which Doan says has lead to a stall in film projects and layoffs all around him.

The 50-year-old compositing supervisor with over 20 years of experience who has worked on Oscar-winning movies said he wasn't surprised to learn the news of his own unemployment Friday.

"To see us grouped together undergoing this difficult time is at least less lonely, but it's a reality we're all facing," he said, speaking on behalf of the artists and industry professionals who make up the "Quebec has lost its effect(s)" group.

In March, the Quebec government announced it would increase the base rate of the tax credit from 20 to 25 per cent and cap its application to 65 per cent of a contract's value, whereas before there was no cap.

The heads of VFX and animation studios came together at the end of May, two days before the new measures came into effect, to sound the alarm over the state of the industry and ask for the measure to be postponed until 2025, but the government went ahead with the amendment.

Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard said in a statement the financial support extended to the VFX and animation industry since 1998 had become "disproportionate" and that the government was choosing to increase support for Quebec cinema instead.

Four Quebec studios will have to close by August while four international studios based in the province are looking to relocate, according to a news release sent by the "Quebec has lost its effect(s)" group. At its peak, in 2022, the industry in Montreal employed 8,000 people. The group says that number will fall to 1,800 next year.

After over 20 years as a compositor, Thai Son Doan is no stranger to slowdowns in the VFX and animation industry, but at 50-years-old with 2 kids and a mortgage, he says the stakes feel higher this time.
After over 20 years as a compositor, Thai Son Doan is no stranger to slowdowns in the VFX and animation industry. But at 50 with two kids and a mortgage, he says the stakes feel higher this time. (Paula Dayan Perez/CBC)

When Doan experienced the industry slowdown in Montreal following the 9/11 attacks and through the 2008 financial crisis, he was younger and had the option to relocate. But with two children and a mortgage, he says his options are limited.

"I have colleagues who are [the] sole breadwinner and it is definitely scarier and [more] anxious for them," he said.

Andrée Ingenito and her partner are both in the VFX industry and brought their baby to the sit-in Saturday. They also just recently bought a house.

They both still have their jobs, but Ingenito says they're worried because neither of them has the time to deal with what a layoff would mean for them.

"Maybe we [would] need to study again, go back to school, learn something else," she said. "Pretty much go back to our own roots and start all over again."

Matthieu Chatelier shares the same sentiments. He's a supervisor at the Montreal-based Folks studio as well as the main organizer of the "Quebec has lost its effect(s)" sit-in.

"What we do is so specialized, it's not something we can transfer to another industry," he said. "It's like asking a plumber to build walls."

Doan says he's going to work on keeping his skills up to date and revamping his portfolio and CV. He might venture into the video game industry but is keeping expectations low since that industry is also going through a difficult time, he says.