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Mainframe Studios is a Canadian animation studio owned by WOW! Unlimited Media Inc. and based in Vancouver, Canada. Mattel partnered with them when they were originally known as Mainframe Entertainment for the production of the first entry, Barbie in the Nutcracker, which released in 2001, since when the partnership blossomed till date.

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History[]

As Mainframe Entertainment

Founded in 1993 as Mainframe Entertainment, the studio was started by Christopher Brough, a noted LA-based animation producer and the British animator group known as 'The Hub' - Gavin Blair, Ian Pearson and Phil Mitchell. The group were looking to create ReBoot, the first fully computer-animated television series, after having used the technology to produce music videos like Money for Nothing and Let's Get Rocked. Due to the cost of shipping equipment back home, advantageous tax credits and proximity to Los Angeles, the company set up shop in Vancouver, Canada.

In 1994, ReBoot launched on ABC in the United States and YTV in Canada. The series intermittently ran for four seasons with production ending in 2001. The company's second project was produced for American toy company Hasbro. Beast Wars (known in Canada as Beasties), a relaunch of the Transformers brand, debuted in 1996 and concluded in 1999. A followup, Beast Machines was produced between 1999 and 2000. Both ReBoot and Beast Wars were produced with Alliance Communications, who had taken a 50% ownership of Mainframe. In 1996, Mainframe paid $17 million to reduce Alliance's share to 15%.

Mainframe became a publicly traded company with a listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange on June 17, 1997. In conjunction with the public offering, Alliance sold 700,000 shares in the company, lowering their ownership to 7.8%. Christopher Brough served as the Chief Executive Officer, Pearson as President, Blair as Director of Operations and Mitchell as Vice President Operations. In its first year on the stock exchange, Mainframe posted an $11 million loss - despite producing hit multi award winning computer animated series during this period.

On April 17, 1998, the Mainframe USA office opened in Los Angeles. Headed by Dan DiDio, the division was created to oversee development, production and U.S. distribution. DiDio previously worked with Mainframe through his stint as ABC's executive director of children's programming.

After having earlier produced two ReBoot themed rides for the company, the IMAX Corporation made a $16 million investment in Mainframe in 1999. This partnership, which gave IMAX roughly 30% ownership of Mainframe, included the creation of a new joint venture meant to facilitate the creation of animated films based on Gulliver's Travels and Pied Piper, with a third project titled Pandora’s Box. The films were intended to be stereoscopic, 3D feature length releases, though none of the three saw completion.

In fiscal 1999, the company reported a $17 million loss. Thanks to episode deliveries for Beast Machines, Beast Wars, Shadow Raiders and Weird-Oh's the company posted its first profit of $1.4 million in fiscal 2000. Buoyed by Heavy Gear, Action Man and their first direct-to-video film, Casper's Haunted Christmas, Mainframe posted another profit of $2.4 million for fiscal 2001. Despite the success, the company faced a major management shakeup that year. Pearson had stepped down as president in June and left the company shortly after, with fellow co-founders Blair and Mitchell also leaving in 2002 and 2005, respectively.

In 2001, American toy maker Mattel partnered with Mainframe to produce Barbie in the Nutcracker. The direct-to-video feature sold more than 3.4 million units in its first year. The success of the release led to a longstanding relationship between Mattel and the animation studio. Mainframe (and its successors) would later produce the majority of the franchise's direct-to-video films, as well as a television series.

Following financial losses of $18.9 million and $7.5 million in fiscal 2002 and 2003, the American IDT Corporation announced it would purchase 56% of Mainframe for $14 million on September 16, 2003. After the cancellation of Spider-Man: The New Animated Series that same year, the company moved away from producing television series. While a number of projects were announced they ultimately did not see fruition, including a pre-school oriented ReBoot spinoff called Binomes as well as Mainframe's first live-action production, an adaptation of Harriet the Spy. In 2005, the company acquired the distribution rights to the live-action/CGI-animated television series Zixx. Mainframe also provided animation for the show's second and third seasons in conjunction with Thunderbird Films. The bulk of the company's work now consisted of direct-to-video projects and television specials.

After producing the visuals for the 2003 MTV Movie Awards, Mainframe started a creative services division to produce video game animation, graphic design, motion graphics, titling, show opening sequences and branding in 2005. This branch of the company worked on a number of projects, including cut-scenes for Prototype, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand and Ghostbusters: The Video Game, as well as the 2006 MTV Movie Awards.

As Rainmaker[]

Rainmaker logo used from 2007 to 2017

Finding itself under new ownership, IDT sold its 62% stake in Mainframe to Vancouver-based post-production firm Rainmaker Income Fund on July 20, 2006 for $13.8 million. The next month Rainmaker announced it would acquire the remaining 38% of Mainframe. On January 30, 2007 Mainframe was renamed to Rainmaker Animation. Later that year, Rainmaker sold its visual effects and post production divisions to Deluxe Entertainment Services Group, leaving only the animation business. After 2007 their name offically changed to Rainmaker Entertainment.

Old Rainmaker logo only used in production credits in 2007.

In June 2012, Chinese animation studio Xing Xing Digital announced its intent to purchase Rainmaker, with the company willing to pay off Rainmaker's $7 million debt. The purchase was called off after Rainmaker and Xing Xing were unable to finalize the sale by September 14, 2012.

In 2013, Rainmaker completed its first theatrical feature film, Escape from Planet Earth. Directed by Cal Brunker, it received mixed reviews from critics and grossed $75 million worldwide. In October, the Mainframe Entertainment brand was revived as the name of the company's television division, starting with a CG-animated incarnation of Bob the Builder.

Rainmaker released its second theatrical feature, Ratchet & Clank, in 2016. Based on the video game series of the same name, the film was a financial failure, causing Rainmaker to take a $10 million impairment charge on their investment in the production. The poor reception to the film was later cited as the reason the company abandoned plans to adapt the Sly Cooper video game franchise into a theatrical film.

Later that year, Rainmaker acquired American-based Frederator Networks, Inc. and announced that they have consolidated its divisions (including Frederator Studios) under its new holding company WOW! Unlimited Media Inc. (TSX:WOW.A). At that time, the company changed the names of its Vancouver divisions to Rainmaker Studios and Mainframe Studios. Since the reorganization, the company has greatly expanded its television output. In 2018, Mainframe produced ReBoot: The Guardian Code, a live-action/CGI-animated re-imagining of the ReBoot property, alongside Barbie: Dreamhouse Adventures and Spy Kids: Mission Critical. In 2019, the studio released its first 2D animated production, a pilot based on Knowledge Network mascots made in Harmony.

As Mainframe Studios[]

On March 16, 2020, the studio announced it would be rebranding as Mainframe Studios, consolidating Rainmaker Studios under the "Mainframe" branding and fully returning the studio to their original name. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mainframe initiated work from home measures for its 400+ employees.

In June 2021, the company confirmed that it would develop a 2D animation pipeline in support of its first production in the medium, an animated series inspired by YouTube personality Guava Juice. The following August, Mainframe announced that it would open a virtual studio in Toronto, Ontario, building upon the work from home experience it gained earlier.[1]

Productions[]

Wiki-wordmark.png Mattel Wiki has a list of productions of Mainframe Studios.


References[]

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