A tireless promoter, Chroma-Colour International president John Munro has squeezed serious mileage from the fact his northeast Calgary manufacturer/distributor puts the devil-yellow highlights in Bart Simpson’s picket-fence hairdo.
But the most interesting thing about this ambitious private company may be its ability to adapt to shifts in market demand.
ChromaColour International Ltd. first attracted attention because of its cool connections in Tinseltown. Munro and his partner, David James of San Jose, Calif., supply top-quality animation paint, paper, software, markers, electric erasers and other specialty items to DreamWorks SKG, the feature film studio founded by Stephen Spielberg, David Geffen et al.
Other buyers include Film Roman, which produces The Simpsons; Warner Bros., Disney and other bigwigs of the torrid animation industry.
|Larry MacDougal, Business Edge|
|ChromaColour’s John Munro, right, and U.S. partner David James helped paint Homer and Bart with glorious hues.|
ChromaColour calls itself a world leader in a niche market. Still, it’s a market that has shrivelled since the advent of digital technology.
“Maybe five or six years ago, (ChromaColour) was routinely shipping enormous crates of paint and materials, weighing the better part of a tonne, to Far Eastern cartoon and film producers,” explained James, an ex- senior executive of Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp. He’s also the man who introduced an unsuspecting world to Laser Quest laser tag.
Munro and James purchased ChromaColour from Versent Corporation of Mississauga in early 2000, fully expecting the global market for animation paint and related products to dry up.
But worry? Never. These guys are light on their feet. They immediately shifted into diversification mode, with the help of a skilled chemist named Michael Cook, the company’s production manager.
ChromaColour developed a high-quality, durable and eye-arresting ceramics glaze which is already making market inroads. Under Cook’s technical supervision, the partners subsequently developed another paint product: ChromaColour Artist Paints, a water-based compound that is attracting notice from local artists. Several have offered their names for endorsements.
They applaud the new medium’s “vibrancy, versatility and slow drying qualities,” which allow an artist to walk away from an unfinished work, then return hours later to find the paint still moist on the palette.
Thus armed with fresh and newly-marketable products, Munro and James felt confident they could maintain a respectable bottom line, even if their fickle pals – The Simpsons, Shrek and the Lion King – did bail out on them.
Then something funny happened. The animation market came roaring back, after studio brass discovered there was something the computer geeks and digital wizards lacked: artistic creativity.
“I’d say there’s been an awakening, a new awareness on behalf of the industry,” theorized Munro. “They all jumped on the digital bandwagon. But they’ve since realized it’s not the whole answer. They’re saying: ‘Hey, let’s slow down a bit. We’re missing the creative aspect.' ”
One of the most stubbornly traditionalist producers has been Film Roman, which carries clout. The Simpsons is their baby and it’s poised to become the longest-running TV sitcom in history.
“The producer of The Simpsons refuses to go digital. The series is entirely hand-drawn and hand-painted,” grinned Munro.
“They tried to do it digitally and the producer didn’t like the feel of it. They weren’t getting the curves, the
movement in the characters they wanted.”
As a result, the Munro/James coalition recently completed their best year for animation-related sales since they bought the company.
“It’s nowhere near what it was in the early days (i.e. before they purchased ChromaColour),” Munro admitted. “But, heck, we expected the market for
animation paint to be gone by now.”
Most production groups now rely on a marriage between digital and traditional elements, a relationship that’s not expected to change anytime soon.
Artists for the hit film Shrek (DreamWorks) relied on such a mix. And the backgrounds for The Lion King (Disney) were also hand-drawn. Both producers used ChromaColour materials to create their box-office monsters.
One reason such big name clients keep returning to Calgary is ChromaColour’s meticulous attention to quality control.
Consider the yellow solar flares which animators use for the hair of North America’s baddest little kid.
“If Bart Simpson’s hair was that precise tone of yellow back in 1990, you don’t want to see it any different in 1995 – you want to see the exact same colour. Our paint (applied to acetate “cels” by Film Roman animators) doesn’t lose its colour,” said Munro.
In an interview last week, Munro and James declined to discuss sales volumes, but insist ChromaColour International is holding its own. In any case, the partners’ gift for rolling with the punches could be their most valuable asset.