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Digital Domain Co-Founder Scott Ross Reveals Plan for "Burning Man Meets TED" VFX Festival

The Trojan Horse Was a Unicorn international digital artists' gathering is expected to attract participants from at least 37 countries

Scott Ross Headshot - P 2011

Scott Ross — co-founder and former CEO of Digital Domain — has been among the most vocal in the effort to bring change to the struggling VFX business. Now he's come onboard as "Ambassador" of a not-for-profit VFX, game and animation festival with a "new format" aimed at inspiring artists and creativity, while also addressing the challenging career path.

Trojan Horse was a Unicorn (THU), slated to take place Sept. 17-20 in Troia, Portugal, is described by Ross as "Burning Man meets TED" and is expected to attract hundreds representing at least 37 different nationalities. This is the second such event, but with Ross now involved and increasing industry support, organizers hope it will grow to become an impactful annual event.

It's art-driven, with this year's speaker highlights including veteran Syd Mead, the conceptual artist behind the look of such classics as Blade Runner, Aliens, Tron and more recently Elysium.

THU also aims to be a global gathering of the VFX industry, having already signed up attendees from Portugal, the U.S., Singapore and even Afghanistan.

The VFX industry is in turmoil, and as Hollywood chases production incentives around the globe, VFX businesses and artists are being forced to make these geographic moves to stay in business. It's a real struggle for artists who are regularly asked to relocate, and it has contributed to industry consolidation and bankruptcies of such leading VFX houses as Rhythm & Hues (which has been acquired by a new owner).

Following the R&H bankruptcy in 2013, Ross wrote a guest column that appeared in The Hollywood Reporter, explaining the VFX business' struggle to survive. More recently, the Association of Digital Artists, Professionals and Technicians (whose board members include Ross) was formed and retained law firm Picard Kentz & Rowe to challenge subsidies in the U.S. Court of International Trade to ask that a mandatory duty be levied against producers who use subsidies, in order to create a more level playing field.

This business reality will be reflected in the THU program. "Today's digital artist needs to understand that choosing a career as an effects artist is impacted by the fact that they will most definitely need to travel the world as a digital gypsy," Ross told THR. "THU plans on speaking to those issues and preparing new digital artists in understanding the fact that they won't be located in one specific locale. Additionally there will be talks around the cloud, powerful new workstations and the possibility of distance computing whereby artists will be local to their own locale while working on large projects."

The THU program features a series of talks, demonstrations, workshops, 'art battles,' and recruitment and mentoring sessions as well as networking. Talks will include 'making of' sessions along with such topics as created environments, concept art, illustrations and character design. Also scheduled are discussions about working in the VFX business, navigating a career in the entertainment industry, and how online can build a career.

In addition to Mead and Ross, speakers include Pixomondo VFX supervisor Sven Martin, who is scheduled to present the Emmy-winning work on Game of Thrones; MPC's Catherine Mullan, who will give a talk about the VFX in Maleficient; and Framestore's Kyle McCulloch, VFX supervisor on Guardians of the Galaxy, who will give two talks, one on working in the VFX industry and one on the making of Guardians and Gravity. Scheduled speakers include artists from Pixar Animation Studios and Industrial Light & Magic.

Email: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com
Twitter: @CGinLA