SIMI VALLEY — After creating Martian dunes and submarine battles in a Simi Valley office complex, Dream Quest Images has sold itself to Walt Disney Co., which said Thursday that it plans to move the movie special effects shop out of town by year's end.
Disney spokesman Ken Green said the entertainment giant bought Oscar-winning Dream Quest for an undisclosed sum to give Mickey Mouse more muscle in one of the fastest-growing realms of movie magic--computer animation and digital special effects.
"There will be new facilities found for the Simi Valley operation, probably in the San Fernando Valley by year-end, to bring it closer to the other operations," Green said.
Simi Valley officials lamented the loss of Dream Quest and the prestige that it brought to the city--not to mention the 120 or so jobs that will move with the company to an as-yet unchosen site nearer the Mouse's headquarters in Burbank.
"Clearly when Dream Quest was independently owned, they were very satisfied at being in the community," Assistant City Manager Don Penman said.
"But now that Disney buys them, I guess they want them closer to home," said Penman, who works to attract businesses to settle in Simi Valley. "They're not a huge employer, but we love them. They've been a terrific company to have here."
Penman said he will write a letter to Disney asking the company not to take Dream Quest away from Simi Valley, but he has little hope of stopping the move.
Simi Valley's job market will lose some of its diversity when Dream Quest leaves, said Nancy Bender, president of the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce.
"That's one of the goals that we have in the community," she said, "to have different types of jobs, not to focus on one type of the industry; to have a balance so if the economy takes a downturn in one particular industry, it doesn't have a major effect on the community."
But while Dream Quest officers declined to say much about moving out of Simi Valley, they cheered the purchase by deep-pocketed Disney, which plans to increase the small studio's staff.
"Obviously, we feel great; it's very exciting," said Keith Shartle, senior vice president. He joined Dream Quest 14 years ago--just two years after it was founded in a Santa Monica garage.
After later moving to Culver City, the company outgrew its cramped studios there and found larger, less-expensive quarters in Simi Valley. It still maintains a television commercial production division in Santa Monica called DQ Films.
Dream Quest's model-making operations moved into an industrial park off Madera Road in Simi Valley's west end in 1987.
There, model makers and effects specialists staged submarine dogfights for the underwater thriller "The Abyss" and crafted Martian sand dunes for the Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi vehicle "Total Recall"--effects that won the studio two Oscars.
The company also began a gradual shift from its special-effects roots in meticulous model work to creating computer-generated effects like the ones in "The Mask," which won Dream Quest an Academy Award nomination.
Where once models were 85% of Dream Quest's work, now they account for only 20%, with computer animation making up the bulk, Shartle said.
In the earliest years in Simi, the Dream Quest shop seemed close enough to Hollywood, he said.
"But as the business grew more competitive, there have been times when it has been detrimental," Shartle said. "We lost one job to a competitor in Culver City because the director lived only 10 minutes from that studio.
"The downside is that for us to network with the rest of the business, we have to plan 45 minutes to an hour to go and have lunch with clients," he said. "But one thing it did do is that rather than focusing on lunching with our prospective clients, we often lunched with our employees, and that makes for quite a bit of camaraderie."
Employees came to love playing football and baseball on the grassy lawn outside the studio, or riding bikes down Simi Valley's bike paths during the lunch hour, he said.
A quarter of Dream Quest's staff lives in Ventura County and probably will remain, he said.
"One of the advantages in 1987 when we moved out here is a number of employees were able to purchase homes for the first time in their lives because the real estate prices were very reasonable here, compared with L. A.," Shartle said. "I live in Thousand Oaks. And we're all pretty firm that we really love it out here."