Visual effects house Digital Domain is building a $40 million, 120,000-square foot studio in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The plan: expand beyond service work for live-action features and create “extremely clean, family films that are memorable, strong, powerful stories.” Since feature animation is quite nearly the most lucrative thing going in Hollywood right now, everybody wants a piece of the action. Digital Domain is moving in the direction of vfx shops like Sony Imageworks and more recently ILM, which released its first original production, Rango, earlier this year. DD has already greenlit an idea for its first feature (what is it?) and hopes to have it in theaters by 2014.
The only hitch is that Digital Domain has been talking about creating original content since the mid-1990s. The company tried to launch an IPO a few years back which failed to ignite interest from investors. Now, they’re getting ready to try the IPO again. This time they hope the results will be different. For starters, the state of Florida and the city of Port St. Lucie has awarded them $70 million worth of incentive grants to set up shop down there. Second, they’ve hired Disney animator and Brother Bear co-director Aaron Blaise to helm their first feature, presumably so that he will recreate some of that Brother Bear magic.
They’ve also hired the executive producer of Brother Bear, Chuck Williams, who told the TCPalm that, “As Pixar is struggling with sequels and Disney’s struggling to find itself, I think it’s a good time for us to come in with a different point of view with great family films.” Frankly, other studios would kill to struggle as much as Disney/Pixar, which created the top grossing film at the worldwide box office last year, plus another animated feature in the top ten.
Plenty more details about DD’s plans in this TCPalm article, including this bit:
In exchange for incentives, the company agreed to create up to 500 jobs with an average annual salary of $65,000 by 2014. The company, now at 243 employees, is on its way to overwhelmingly exceeding that goal.
According to the article, only 15 of those employees work in its feature animation division. The photo up top is of (l. to r.) Chuck Williams, Aaron Blaise, and Craig Grasso. There’s also a solo photo of Aaron Blaise accompanying the TCPalm piece which has a special surprise that I’ve highlighted below:
I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything, but as a rule of thumb, if you’re launching a new animation studio, it’s a smart idea to make sure that logos of other studios’ animated films aren’t visible in publicity shots.