Ubisoft bulking up for movies

SAN FRANCISCO (Hollywood Reporter) - French video game publisher Ubisoft is entering the CGI entertainment business in a big way, with plans to invest almost $400 million in an expansion of its production center in Montreal with a goal to make movies.

During a news conference Friday attended by Quebec Premier Jean Charest, Ubisoft said it wants to build a team of 3,000 employees in the province by 2013, with 500 staffers dedicated to CGI.

Ubisoft said the expansion of its facilities will result in an additional investment of as much as $383.9 million during the next six years. Quebec will offer tax credits, job training and other support worth as much as $16 million. The facility would become one of the largest for digital entertainment in the world.

Ubisoft, which entered Quebec in 1997 and now has 1,600 employees there, will focus on delivering short CGI films at first, beginning in the fall with an eight-minute CG film promoting the next-generation console game “Assassin’s Creed.” This content will be digitally distributed over the Internet and to such outlets as iTunes and Xbox Live Marketplace, likely offering some content for free and an extended content experience for a price.

“With the short films, we’re going to learn how CGI production works,” Ubisoft CEO and co-founder Yves Guillemot said in an interview. “We’ll insert product placement in the short films so we can monetize them. Our goal is to work more closely with Hollywood studios and talent so we can eventually make movies at the same time we create the games.”

Over the next five years, Guillemot said the Montreal studio will explore other opportunities, including CGI TV shows and portions of feature films.

“What we see in the future generation of consoles is they will allow us to play games in real time, which is the equivalent of what you see today in CGI movies,” Guillemot said. “We will work and learn all the technology and know-how so that when it’s time for the next console launch in five years, we’ll be ready for games and movies that are at the right level.”

Guillemot said Ubisoft is hiring people from Hollywood and CGI companies so the video game creators can learn how to create these movies.

“We’re looking for the best talent interested in movies but also interested in learning more about creating video games as well, so they will not only give things to us, but they’ll also learn how interactive entertainment is made,” Guillemot said.

Ubisoft’s Montreal studio worked with director Peter Jackson and Weta on the “King Kong” game last year, and it’s finishing up a game based on the Warner Bros./Weinstein Co. CGI property “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Ubisoft also is working with Sony Pictures Animation on games based on such CGI features as “Open Season” and “Surf’s Up.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter