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Trendsetter: Phillip Stamp

The head of DHX Media's Halifax studio talks innovation in animation, working in knowledge-based economies and why it's important for businesses to set up shop downtown.

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Phillip Stamp had an early love of drawing, which he eventually turned into a career in animation. Originally from St. John’s, Stamp studied animation at Algonquin College in Ottawa and has worked at many studios in Canada and the U.S., including Lucasfilm. But then he had a chance to come home to the East Coast, joining DHX Media Ltd. as one of several vice-presidents, heading the Halifax studio. The digital-animation studio creates, produces and markets many animated shows, including The Doozers, Yo Gabba Gabba, Johnny Test and Teletubbies. The firm is also working on a relaunch of 1980s classic Inspector Gadget.

Recently, the company and its 160 staff moved into a new space in Park Lane Terrace on Spring Garden Road with plans for more expansion. “The great thing about Nova Scotia is we have a great economic environment in which to operate,” he says. “The province is very supportive of the industry as a whole.”

Halifax Magazine recently spoke with Stamp about what makes DHX an innovator and why the downtown matters.

What makes DHX different?

DHX right now is looking at different ways to distribute the content we already own. We have an extensive library of TV shows and we are looking at ways of invigorating those things or making new ones, develop completely brand-new ideas and try to get it to a brand-new audience. At the studio level, one of the ways we are fairly innovative here is that we don’t use off-the-shelf solutions when we go into production. In 3-D animation there is some standard software that gets used. What we actually have is a dedicated team that develops brand new software tools and techniques. That allows us to do some other types of production that you wouldn’t necessarily get to do. We are doing things with realistic hair, for example, which sounds a little bit creepy or mundane, but when you’re talking 3-D animation for television there aren’t a lot of shows out there doing that kind of work.

Why did you choose Spring Garden Road for the studio?

We were at another space downtown comparable in size, but we wanted to get right into the core of downtown to be in the middle of the heart of the city. The reason for that is multifold. Number one, we wanted to make sure we had easy access for a lot of the staff… People who are walking, riding bicycles, taking public transit. We wanted to make sure that it would be easy for them to get to. And also because we have a lot of people coming in from out of province and this is right in the middle of the city. It’s a good starting point coming to Halifax to get to know where they are.

That goes against the trend of everyone moving out of the downtown core.

It does, which I think is a real shame. And that was another variable to not go out of the downtown… I would like to see more industry come in to liven up and inject some cash into downtown. It’s historically the heart of the city and we should maintain that.

What’s the advantage of having a studio in Halifax?

There are two critical things you need to have access to for an animation studio. One is you need to have a good base of new talent. You need to have schools training new people so that you can be plucking the top graduates right out of their courses right when they are ready and looking for work. And we have that here in Nova Scotia. The second thing you need is a good business economic environment in which to operate. You have to have a competitive edge over other places. You have to be able to do things at a level other people charge. You have to be competitive. That just brings you to the playing field. Once you have those two things you’re ready to play, that’s when you try to get a really competitive team.

What do you think you can teach knowledge-based companies about doing business here?

One of the things you have to do is engage with where your talent base is. It’s not a natural resource; it’s a manufactured resource. You have to engage with that and let them know exactly what you’re looking for and help them make their programs better. The more engaged you are with your talent pool the better dividends you’re going to get down the road. That requires a lot of energy and effort… You also have to be engaged with your economic environment. It’s easy to be critical and complain about things, but what’s important is seeing what the strengths are and how you can build on those strengths. So it’s also important to engage with your competition, other people who are doing what you’re doing, be friends with them… In this particular industry, a knowledge-based industry, there’s plenty of knowledge to go around.

What do you think the future is for DHX in Halifax?

I would love to see us double our capacity within the next five years. We had a mandate here in 2012 to double the studio size and we’ve more than tripled. So I think we could double again from where we are right now. For Halifax in general, I would love to see more studios open here. DHX is a great big company that can walk softly into the room carrying a very large stick and I would love to have more people come take advantage of what successes we’ve had here by opening other studios. I would happily talk to anyone who wanted to do that and help them get that off the ground.

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