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Animating guru Hirsh is back with new company, Netflix project

Castlevania, one of Wow Unlimited Media’s first projects and inspired by a classic video-game series from the Japanese company Konami, will be released on Netflix.

Wow Unlimited Media

Michael Hirsh, long a dominant force in Canada's animation movie business, has a promising new venture. He is launching Wow Unlimited Media, which he hopes will emerge as one of the world's largest publicly traded independent animation firms.

One of its first projects will be a series called Castlevania. Netflix is this week announcing some future offerings, include Castlevania.

Hirsh, who is Wow's CEO and board chair, says the new company aims to create an advance in the kids and youth animation business by focusing on digital platforms, content and merchandising, rather than TV screens. A key factor is that Wow owns Frederator, which is a leading online provider of animation films, seen on YouTube and other Internet sites.

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In addition to U.S.-based Frederator, Wow also owns what had been Rainmaker Entertainment, a large, publicly traded, Vancouver-based animation studio. Rainmaker shareholders approved a name change so that Rainmaker became Wow. The point of doing that was to draw attention to the new company and its ambition.

As soon as the votes were counted, they became shareholders in a company with a new name.

"It was like putting fresh paint on a house to make it stand out," Hirsh says.

Castlevania is a medieval fantasy inspired by a classic video-game series from Konami – a Japanese company that develops and manufactures video games. The animated series was written by best-selling author Warren Ellis, a key figure in the world of comic books.

"This is my next venture into kids' programming," says Hirsh, who was born in Belgium, moved to Canada at 3 and turned 69 this week. "Our strategy is building platforms that focus on youth. It's an opportunity to build a next-generation company to lead the industry."

If anyone in this country was going to move into such futuristic territory, Hirsh was the obvious candidate.

He is one of the most successful and influential figures in Canada's showbiz history, having built and sold off two globally dominant animation companies. His cartoon film productions have won many Gemini and Emmy Awards. And over five decades, Hirsh has made Canada a capital of animated films, exported to the rest of the world.

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In 1971, Hirsh and two partners founded Nelvana, which eventually became a powerhouse. A turning point came in 1977 when George Lucas chose Nelvana to make a 10-minute cartoon as part of his Star Wars project. Nelvana's hit TV shows included Babar, Care Bears, Max & Ruby and Franklin.

When Nelvana was sold to Corus Entertainment for $540-million in 2000, Hirsh not only made a fortune but stayed on for two years as CEO.

In 2003, Hirsh started Cookie Jar, taking over his competitor in animation, the Montreal-based company Cinar. In 2012, he sold Cookie Jar to DHX Media for $111-million, then stayed on for three years as the company's executive chair.

After leaving DHX, Hirsh became chair of a company known as TEAM – short for the Entertainment and Media Finance Group.

It's a business-building group that raises money for film and TV companies.

As well, during much of 2016, he was working to establish the venture that eventually became known as Wow.

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