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Studio adds 50 jobs with new series.

Once again, March Entertainment is making kids all over Canada laugh and economic development officials all over Greater Sudbury smile.

The producers of the hit CBC television after-school cartoon Chilly Beach are running mad looking for 2-D animators, Flash programmers and designers to fill the 50 new positions they have just created.

The company has been starting new hires in groups of eight or so for the past few weeks.

With the help of $1.75 million in financing through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. (NOHFC), March is gearing up to produce the first season of The Very Good Adventures of Yam Roll in Happy Kingdom (Yam Roll). The announcement was made when newly minted Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan visited Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci's riding Nov. 29.

Bartolucci is also chair of NOHFC.

The show is based on a pilot featured on another of March's CBC-aired series, Maple Shorts, which invited budding animators to submit their short pieces for a chance at some airtime on the national broadcaster. The Yam Roll short, sent in to Maple Shorts from Vancouver by the men now employed by March as lead producers, was the highest-rated entry in the competition.

It depicts the adventures of what can only be described as a walking piece of sushi with "Zen powers" in the vein of old-school kung-fu movies, complete with caricatural Japanese voiceovers.


Yam Roll, a taxi driver by trade, "braves monsters, bad guys and barking dogs in the name of unrequited love," according to a synopsis.

The show, which has 39 11-minute and 39 three-minute episodes ahead, is to be delivered this month and will start airing in February, according to March vice-president Sandra MacLeod.

Currently, just about every human resource and most of the technology at the company's studio in the Rainbow Centre mall's office tower are dedicated to getting Yam Roll signed, sealed and delivered.

Anatomy of a Yam Roll

Every episode is personally moulded from colour, shape, raw inspiration and sushi rice by co-creators Jon Izen and Jono Howard, and is developed with the hands-on assistance of assistant director Billy Zeats and animation director Mike Geiger.

They are supported by several background character artists and prop artists, all of whom have a lot of work ahead of them once Izen and Howard dream something up. A single episode can have over 100 different backgrounds and up to a couple of hundred props.

Others are responsible for matching the audio to the video, colouring the various elements of the episode, adding animation to the scenes, repackaging the digital files for submission to the broadcaster and editing.


Once the concept and script for a given episode are established, a storyboard of the episode is drawn up. The frame-by-frame, hand-drawn storyboard is then literally scanned into the computer system where animators begin to work on the digital rough copy. That version is sent to the audio technician, who makes sure the sounds of the actors are in line with what is on the screen. By combining the storyboard with the audio, the editor creates a leica, or film, of what the show is going to look and sound like.

The episode is then sent to the scene-planning cell, where all the deadlines tend to crunch, according to MacLeod. In such an interdependent production model, if one element slips, the whole process is affected.

"For example, the voice of one of our characters was sick for a while recently, so we weren't able to go ahead with the animation," MacLeod explains.

Once the scene-planning cell is done, the episode ships across the floor to the animators, where the artwork and backgrounds are laid out and the action is added. Then it's off to post-production, where all the digital files that make up the elements of the episode are assembled into the rough cut. That is sent to the broadcaster, which gives March its feedback.

That feedback is used to adjust and fine-tune the episode, which is then "locked to time," or cut to the exact amount of space the CBC is giving it. Then, it is sent to the composer, an external operation that adds all the special audio effects and music needed. After final review by management, the episode is formatted for online broadcast, and shipped down to March's Toronto office so staff there can literally walk down the block to CBC head office and drop it off.

The first episode is scheduled to air on the CBC in the second week in February.

A new Happy Kingdom

March staffers are gearing up to move over to the corner of Durham and Larch Streets in downtown Sudbury, on top of a popular nightspot. The new space will give the company exactly what it needs: space.

A tour of the production facility demonstrated the fact that there is little, if any space left to add staff. A mountain of newly delivered computer hardware and monitors sits between the reception desk and MacLeod's office.

"We have $10 million worth of contracts to push through this year," she explains. "We're always planning 12 to 18 months out, (but) capital is always a big concern for us, and that's why we need the NOHFC."

NOHFC, FedNor 'essential'

The risk-averse banks don't necessarily understand the needs of a new industry like the one March is establishing in Sudbury, she says. Their non-traditional needs have to be met by nontraditional means.


"FedNor and the NOHFC are essential."

Develop locally, sell globally

The company has been adamant in its community-based focus since its inception. It lent its creative expertise and trademarked characters from Chilly Beach, for example, to the United Way in 2004. The mascots of two major characters were featured at fundraising and media events, and animated television promos were created by March pro bono.

But MacLeod stresses that though a company such as theirs should develop locally, they must and do all of their marketing internationally.

"You have to use technology and work globally," she says. "You're not confined to the small area where you are located anymore."

March on a roll

Yam Roll is the fourth television series produced at the March Entertainment premises. Over the summer, the studio was contracted to do virtually all of the production related to Faireez, a series based in another type of fantastical, enchanted world, geared to kids aged four to seven and aired in Australia and the United Kingdom. That 52 episodes worth of work helped the studio make ends meet and retain its substantial talent pool in between in-house projects, according to MacLeod.

Many March employees take a position at the studio as their first job, she says. The staff on average is very young, so there are a lot of people-based concerns MacLeod and the rest of the management team have to keep on top of.

"They are so young and so enthusiastic, but there are many life and job skills they have to learn," MacLeod explains. "We recruit the very best from across the industry, so we want to keep them."

Recruits have come from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), British Columbia (including the Yam Roll creators), and more and more from Northern Ontario.

"There are a lot more people from Northern Ontario in animation programs now," says MacLeod. "Many apply with us, then go to school."


Northern Ontario Business
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL REPORT: GREATER SUDBURY; March Entertainment
Author:Gilbert, Craig
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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