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A still frame for the movie Christopher Robin.Framestore

If it walks like a bear, smells like a bear and makes noises like a bear, it’s probably a bear. If it looks like a bear but walks, talks and otherwise acts like a human, it’s probably a CGI creation of Framestore, a motion-picture special-effects company.

“We do bears,” says Chloe Grysole, managing director of the Montreal office of the British-based firm. “We’re known for bringing creatures to life, and Paddington is one of our guys." Grysole refers to the beloved storybook star of 2014’s Paddington and the 2017 follow-up Paddington 2.

Now, some bears are cuddly. Others will give you a mauling. And some might earn you an Academy Award. Framestore is distinctly concerned with the third of those three things. Of the 20 films longlisted in the visual-effects category for the 91st Oscars in 2019, six involve Framestore. Two of those are ursine-intense: Paddington 2 and Christopher Robin.

A good part of those two films were worked on out of Framestore’s Montreal studio, where the in-house art department​ has carved out a niche when it comes to creating compelling creatures for film and television. The Montreal team also worked on another film longlisted in the VFX category, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the second instalment in the J.K. Rowling-written fantasy franchise. (Award consideration notwithstanding, Framestore was unable to make actor Johnny Depp appear lifelike.)

Of course, Framestore is not only bullish on bears specifically or creatures in general. The Montreal office was largely responsible for the computer-generated environments of Blade Runner 2049, the Denis Villeneuve-directed sci-fi feature that won the visual-effect prize at both the 90th Academy Awards and the 71st British Academy Film Awards.

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Chloe GrysoleFramestore

Business in the visual-effects industry is currently booming. “Even romantic comedies have effects now,” Grysole says. The Montreal office, one of Framestore’s four North American outposts, was set up in early 2013. At the time, according to Grysole, local visual-effects artists were leaving the city, and the country, for work opportunities elsewhere. “There was a great pool of talent here that wasn’t being tapped into.”

Things have changed. Since launching with a core staff of 20, Framestore’s Montreal facility now boasts nearly 600 employees, including a team dedicated to virtual-reality development. “The industry has grown exponentially around us since we’ve been here,” Grysole says. “It’s exciting to be a part of it.”​

Know of an unsung arts and culture hero who deserves wider acclaim? Send suggestions to bwheeler@globeandmail.com.

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