In the past several years, thanks in large part to enticing Canadian film subsidies, Vancouver, BC, has become a kind of Hollywood North for visual effects and animation. Zoic Studios opened shop there in 2006, relocating several from its LA studios to a space in the city’s Sun Tower downtown. Zoic also hired Canadian talent, including VFX supervisor Bob Habros and nearly a dozen local artists. The Vancouver facility, which now occupies a 6,500 square-foot space in the city’s Gastown district and can employ up to 60 artists at full capacity, is connected via Fiber Gigabit Ethernet to the LA office’s 100 TB of storage and more than 1,000 render nodes. The facility also periodically outsources work and has at least one agent in New York.

On-set VFX and 3D-CG Supervisor Paul Ghezzo often shuttles between Zoic’s two studios. Also a CG artist, Ghezzo has done everything from rigging, surfacing, modeling and texturing with tools like Maya, Softiamge, Lightwave, Modo, Max and Fustion and the usual suspects in the Adobe Creative Suite. As a VFX supe, he’s managed a growing cadre of teams on multiple film and episodic projects in LA and Vancouver. We spoke with him in a quiet corner of the show floor during SIGGRAPH, which ended Thursday.

Q: What are you working on right now?
A: We’ve got three main projects going on: Two films, The Haunting in Georgia and Piranha 3DD (that’s double D!), and a new episodic show for ABC Studios, Once Upon a Time. It’s a virtual reality show, so we’re shooting it on a green stage and creating the environments in CG, everything from exteriors and interiors of castles and hallways to forested areas.

Q: Is there one CG-intensive film or specific shot from the past year that you find particularly inspiring?
A: Let’s just say a lot of the competition have done some pretty amazing things recently. Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Cowboys & Aliens and Harry Potter all featured extraordinary work, certainly. It’s hard to pinpoint any one specific shot, since everything was so exceptionally integrated into the main narratives.

Q: What recent piece of technology has changed the way Zoic works?
A: We’ve spent a lot of time developing our own in-house system, Z.E.U.S., which stands for Zoic’s Environmental Unification System. It’s a real-time, on-set virtual workflow for greenscreen environments. It gives us a real-time greenscreen key and full camera tracking. What we do in pre-production is create the environments digitally, and texture and light them, and then via a playback monitor on set, the director, DP and gaffer can all see what that digital environment looks like and use the real-time camera hookup they can position the camera and get the right framing of the actors within the CG environments. The gaffer can also light to the CG environment, say if there’s a spotlight in the scene. You don’t have to have this divorce between production and post and worry that we’ll have to make it up on the back end. We can do everything we need to do right there on set. We’ve been using it for about two years now and it’s definitely been game-changing. It just makes a lot of sense for shows with multiple environments and you can’t always create what you need just with physical stand-in sets. For example, on V [an ABC television series that ran from 2009 to March 15, 2011] we created this two-mile long spaceship using Z.E.U.S.

Q: What about off-the-shelf tools?
A: V-Ray as a render engine has also been a game-changer. It doesn’t have the inherent issues that bogged down the last software we used for rendering and it has phenomenal speed. If we have a problem with it, whether it’s user error or there’s a technical problem, the folks at the Chaos Group will tell us what to do or fix it for us. It saves us time, and because we can work with compressed files — which we weren’t able to get before with the last render engine — it saves us an immense amount of storage space. A lot of the other things you take for granted, from I/O time to the reading and writing time it takes the compositor to load up all the Gigs of data, are so much faster that it’s saved us thousands and thousands of dollars in overhead. And the end quality of the image is just phenomenal.

Q: Which app on your iPhone do you use the most at work — and what’s in constant rotation on your iPod?
A: I use e-mail and text a lot! Seriously, the strongest tool in our office is communication and I find myself constantly emailing and texting to keep tabs on everything. We can have upwards of about 30 productions going on at one time, and you’ve got to make sure everyone is communicating with each other. I also love To-Do List, which is a great app to help me run my tasks. And to wrangle my sanity I have a number of film soundtracks and a lot of classical music on my iPod.