Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Michael Bay (and others) buy Digital Domain

At a time when conventional wisdom around town sez the visual effects business operates at too low a margin, and is too vulnerable to the Indian animation expansion, an investment group that includes director Michael Bay has bought Digital Domain. . . Digital Domain was formed in 1993 by James Cameron, Stan Winston, and Scott Ross (former head of ILM), along with a big investment by IBM. DD went on to do major effects work on an impressive list of films and commercials, while also developing a reputation as something of a sweatshop. A recent online poll of vfx workers ranked it as the worst place in town to work. On the other hand, I spoke to a friend at the Over the Hedge wrap party who's been at DD for a few months who said it's been a pleasure to work there. As a side note, Scott Ross, the outgoing DD CEO, once publicly debated Tom Sito on the merits of unionization in animation. As far as I know, he's the only nonunion studio head to ever have the guts to do that. It'll be interesting to see if the new owners/managers have larger plans. It's always seemed to me that the work-for-hire effects biz is a high-risk, low-reward proposition.


Robert said...

About a year or so after Titanic, one of DD's effects producers came through Dallas to talk about their work. She showed clips and broke down how they were done. Several times she raved about how young her crew was... 24, 21, 18 even. During the Q&A afterward, a member of the audience noted this and asked "is there any place in this industry for someone over 30?"

"Of course we would never discriminate against anyone because of their age," she replied, but in the same breath she continued on to say that she doubted "anyone over 30 would be able to keep up."

That seemed an ironic attitude since she appeared to be WAY over 30 herself.

Kevin Koch said...

I don't know if this is what was going on in the specific case you site, but it's very convenient for some producers to talk about the "energy" and "creativity" of very young workers -- when what they really mean is that single guys just out of school are very unlikely to push for decent health or pension benefits, or to quibble about minor things like unpaid overtime, or even a livng wage.

Chrlane said...

Maybe we should just create a drone force of castrati slave labor using cutting edge dna technology…

Seriously-- maybe we need to realize that budgets and common sense should dictate the complexity of content instead of "trends". A truly innovative company can do something competitive without killing it's workers.

My husband says he'll never forget the time our then Prime-Minister, Chretien, visited EA Canada and bought all the hype. Goverment loves all the revenue the business generates. They don't get just how abusive it can be. There needs to be legislation both here in Canada and over there in the USA protecting people against the abuses of computer production industries. But above all, we have to counter the glamour cast on young kids by these companies. People need to have a conscience. These youth are our future and they'll all be dropping dead of cancer by the time they are 30. I know nobody wants to hear the ugly truth-- But it's unconscienable to say, "Big deal we'll just go to India after they all drop dead." We haven't begun to see the real impact of these employment trends on the large societal scale.

All I know, is EA nearly killed us, and it took over a decade to undo the impact their hiring practices had on our family's health and wellbeing. It's why I am so vocal. I don't want to see others go through all that.

(Sorry for the length-- this is a biggie for me.)

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