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Miramichi tries to retain former reputation as animation hub

Miramichi, once the province’s greatest hope for an animation and gaming hub, is trying to hold onto its former reputation, even if the sector has taken a nosedive from its peak in 2007.

This week, the Atlantic Festival of Animation and Games, hosted by NBCC Miramichi’s animation and gaming programs, has attracted potential employers to see the work of new graduates.

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Kayla Scully, a 2016 NBCC Miramichi graduate, has created a Zamboni game for tablet and mobile devices. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

From 3D printing and graphic design to program coding, Brian McGee, festival organizer, said there are still good job prospects for these students.

“They’ve been training people for the animation industry worldwide, people for the gaming industry worldwide,” he asid.

“So it is a hub and a Mecca, where all these people came from here originally, even if the industry itself is decent, if not huge.”
 
While the industry does still exist in the Miramichi, it’s a shadow of itself from the days when FatKat Studios received more than a million dollars in provincial funding and employed 130 people.

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A bust of Lord Beaverbrook was created by a 3D printer at NBCC Miramichi. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

Jeff MacTavish, the director of economic development and tourism for Miramichi, said the city has done work to make the area as attractive as possible for the industry.

“Most of these folks had never been to Atlantic Canada, never owned a car, so the city had done a lot of things to complement it,” he said.

“That’s why we started our public transit system back in 2008-2009.”

Miramichi ordered studies to better understand the gaming sector and built infrastructure around it, MacTavish said,
and when FatKat folded in 2008, the city did its best to hold tight to what was left.

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Jeff MacTavish, the director of economic development and tourism for Miramichi, said a new incubator, Creative Lair, is very specific to animation and gaming and the programming being produced at NBCC. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

“We started an incubation centre we called the Creative Lair … It’s very specific to animation and gaming and the programming which is being produced at NBCC,” he said.

That approach seems to be working. Egg Roll Studios is now up and running, creating video games, with a handful of employees, thanks in part to the Creative Lair.

Kayla Scully, a NBCC graduate and Miramichi resident, said she did her work term there.

“There’s not too many other companies here. They’re the only one I know of. It’s just sort of starting to get back with the gaming,” she says.

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Kayla Scully’s Zamboni game for tablets. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

Scully wants to stay in Miramichi and be a part of what she thinks could be a resurgence.

She certainly knows her market.

Her latest game centres around an ice rink and features a Zamboni. The game is much harder than it looks and so is the programming behind it.

“If you see something in a game moving around, there’s a piece of code that does that, so I would be creating that piece of code,” she explained.

Scully’s work is already credited on games sold through the App Store, but she hopes to move on to bigger projects while remaining on the Miramichi, close to home.

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