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Digital Domain emerges from bankruptcy

September 28, 2012|By Richard Verrier
  • Jeff Bridges in "Tron: Legacy." Digital Domain created special effects for the movie.
Jeff Bridges in "Tron: Legacy." Digital Domain created special… (Disney Enterprises )

Digital Domain, the once-storied visual effects house co-founded by director James Cameron, has emerged from bankruptcy with new Chinese and Indian owners vowing to expand the Los Angeles-based studio.

Digital Domain Media Group announced Sunday that it had accepted a bid from Galloping Horse America, a division of a Beijing media company, and Reliance MediaWorks, part of the Indian conglomerate Reliance Group, to buy the company's visual effects studios in Venice, Calif., and Vancouver, Canada, for $30.2 million.

The deal closed Thursday and effectively removes Digital Domain from a potentially protracted Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by its parent company in Florida this month. That filing caused the near-shutdown of the company's new animation building in Port St. Lucie, Fla., laying off most of its 320 workers.

"We're unencumbered," said longtime Digital Domain executive Ed Ulbrich, who was recently named chief executive of Digital Domain Productions. "This allows us to expand our capacity and to grow our business offshore. We have immense gratitude to our new ownership, and to our employees."

Founded in 1993 by "Titanic" and "Avatar" director Cameron and other partners, Digital Domain has created special effects for more than 90 movies, including "Titanic," "Tron: Legacy," "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" and the "Transformers" films. (Cameron no longer has a stake in the company.)

Ulbrich said the focus now would be on returning Digital Domain to its roots in visual effects, as opposed to producing animated movies, creating military simulations and other costly initiatives that contributed to the company's financial woes.

The deal is expected to improve Digital Domain's ability to compete on a global scale by giving it access to Reliance's production pipeline and to low-cost labor in India and eventually China, where Galloping Horse expects to open a visual effects studio.

But executives from both companies emphasized that they would invest in Digital Domain's overall business, not outsourcing jobs to India and China. Digital Domain employs 733 people at its studios in Venice and Vancouver.

"The L.A. operation will continue to grow," said Venkatesh Roddam, CEO of film and media services for Reliance MediaWorks. "There is enough work to be had out there."

The deal could help Digital Domain expand its business in China, where there is a strong demand for quality visual effects, said Ivy Zhong, vice chairman and managing director of Beijing Galloping Horse Film Co.

"It's a very strategic investment for us," Zhong said. "In China the quality of visual effects is very, very low. If we set up a branch in China, we're going to have a lot of business."

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