Rocket Monkeys. Pete the Cat. Angry Birds. Beat Bugs. DNAce. Hotel Transylvania. Any of these animated series ring a bell? If not, maybe you’re familiar with where they’re playing: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Nickelodeon Teletoon, Corus, YouTube.
It’s big time stuff for Yeti Farm, the Kelowna-based digital animation studio that has hit warp speed in the last few years. Animating shows under contract for other companies, they’ve steadily expanded to the point where they’re writing, developing and pitching their own series. Recently three ideas have been green lit to develop into prime-time pilots, one of them a live action series. How did this all happen?
Rewind to 2007. Creative guy Todd Ramsey has been working as an animator and director in Vancouver, while Ashley has been producing various children’s animated shows. After starting their own company and becoming parents, they decided in 2010 to move closer to family in Kelowna.
“It was a huge risk and took us a few years to get going” Ashley explains. “The animation industry was just beginning here. There was Disney, then Bardel Animation and The Centre for Arts and Technology was teaching animation. So we were lucky we had lots of existing relationships outside the region to build on.”
In 2012 the couple rented space, hired five students from the school and secured their first roster of work with Electronic Arts, producing the heads on the athletes in various games like FIFA, UFC and NHL. “Pretty soon we signed a three-year lock-in output deal with Atomic Cartoons for Netflix shows like Rocket Monkeys and Beat Bugs, and that was when it really took off. 2013 to 2016 was pretty megascale, scaling up to about 50 employees. Then we expanded again, and by 2019 we had about 160 artists and a 7,000 square foot studio space.”
“Starting out I think we definitely benefited from a blend of support systems with municipal, provincial and federal aid behind us.
While we were scaling up, I worked weekly with advisors looking at different financial models and how to handle our operation, which was changing drastically. We also participated on the advisory board of Okanagan College to shape their animation program so it would fit our talent needs and they really supported us in that.”
“Now that we’re a certain size, we benefit from the BC Film and Media Tax Credits (17.5%). There are also unique tax credit bonuses for being in this region (12% Regional + 6% Distance) which gives us a bit of an edge in terms of our competitors in a tough market, particularly against the overseas studios. The animation industry here is definitely bigger because of our studio. It’s basically grown from zero to one of the mid-sized employers of the area, maybe tripled in size. Now with the pivot in our studio space strategy (they’ve gone 100% mobile since COVID-19), I think it presents more opportunities for ourselves and our staff.”
“Today we’re producing three prime-time pilots. Prime-time animation is a totally different category in animated content, which is emerging because live action shoots have been discontinued for the foreseeable future. This is where I see huge potential. Then we’re also producing our own animated property, Sweet Tweets, and are in development with a Canadian network for Kick Flip, a girl’s live action sports dramedy to be shot locally.” “It can be seen as very brave to start a studio here, but it’s also been a very selfless and humbling thing. Todd and I are both really proud and grateful. We feed and build families.”
“A lot of people in the studio now have kids and homes and mortgages and cars and it’s kind of neat, right?”
Where else can they lead a really healthy balanced lifestyle where they animate in the morning, hike in the afternoon and then hop back on at night? “That’s the best part about the lifestyle here. Oh, and the wine. Which every stressed-out entrepreneur needs a lot of.”