Sunday, November 19, 2006


Miramichi animators move to bigger studio

Fatkat Animation Studios purchases Newcastle Legion building for upstairs office space, rents main floor back to veterans' group

George Hogan began the renovation on the Newcastle Legion building, Branch number 10 yesterday by demolishing the stage to make way for office space. The building was bought by the Miramichi-based Fatkat Animation Studios to accomodate their growing workforce. Now, the legion will be roomates with Fatkat. Instead of moving, the Legion will rent the downstairs portion of the building.

MIRAMICHI - The banging clash of sledgehammers ripping apart the staging replaced the typically serene mood of the Newcastle Legion building yesterday.

It was the first day of renovations in the old building that will now house an
animation company. The space from the stage will create more workspace for the new owners.

Fatkat Animation has done so well in its three-year Miramichi existence that it had to move, for a fourth time, to accommodate its continually expanding waistline.

And the only place that had enough room was the Newcastle Legion, Branch number 10.

The legion members put the building on the market a few years ago. Dwindling membership made it necessary for a few changes and the building was one of them. The 450 current members are just a fraction of its peak 1,400 person membership in its golden age.

The idea was to sell the 2½ storey building and move into a smaller building. Many of the Legion members, who are Second World War veterans in their 80s, have more difficulties using the stairs. So, moving into a single-storey place seemed to make sense. But, when
Fatkat bought the building they struck a deal that looks like a win/win for everyone. Fatkat animation is taking over the second floor and the legion will remain in the building, renting out the first floor.

Fatkat Animation owner, "King of the Litter Box," Gene Fowler said it just seemed like the right thing to do. Not only will they have the rent from the Legion as income but the Legion members will still have a home base.

Fowler admits
Fatkat's continued growth is a bit "scary" for a man who wanted to have a small business of about 20 employees in his native Miramichi. But, his dream has become a business success story and he hopes to inspire others in the Miramichi area to pursue their goals.

The company now has more than 60 employees. When it moves into the Legion, hopefully by January, the company will have more than 100 employees. Right now, animators and other Fatkat employees are crammed together sharing desks.

"We're running out of space," said Andrew Dunn,
Fatkat's marketing manager.

Fowler himself has been working from home because three employees are in his office with no other space to move into. To accommodate their growing demand for employees, they've lured people from across Canada, Ireland, England, China, Italy and other parts of the world.

This homegrown company has attracted international attention. About 90 per cent of its business is done internationally. The company will sometimes come up with its own concepts or it will be asked to put an idea down on paper and make it reality. For example,
Fatkat just finished one full season of 39 seven-minute episodes, of an adult-themed animated series called Happy Tree Friends for a company based in California.

Fowler's dreams fostered through hard work and dedication along with some help from all levels of government. "Miramichi is a great place to do business," said Dunn.

Now Fatkat is renovating. Walls will go up to allow for offices and a new roofing area will be put on the patio to make it into a work station area. At some point, a new storey will be added to allow for more workspace.

Legion president Denis McNeil admits seeing the old staging ripped out is hard, especially since he helped design it in the 1980s."It wasn't easy for us to give up this building," McNeil said, but added that he believes it was the right decision.

They too were doing a bit of their own renovations yesterday as they downsized from the entire building to one floor. Decisions were being made on what to keep, what to sell and what to give away to accommodate their cozier work space.But he believes they've made the right decision."I think we'll be OK," McNeil said. "I think we'll survive and part of that is because we've downsized. I'm pretty sure both of us can co-exist in the same building."

McNeil also hopes that
Fatkat employees will take advantage of what they have to offer, including the bar area. A playful McNeil said, "I hope they (Fatkat) will pay our rent by using our bar."

This latest move is the largest in
Fatkat's short history but it likely won't be the last. Fowler said the future could hold multiple locations for the business in Miramichi and beyond.

& transcript staff
As published on page B2 on
November 18, 2006

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