Scott Ross: Digital Domain Could Have Been as Successful as Pixar

During a THU Festival talk, Ross reflected on his disagreements with James Cameron while making ‘Titanic,’ reaction to the VFX anti-poaching pact, and his interest in VR.
Paramount Pictures/Courtesy Neal Peters Collection
'Titanic'

Visual effects veteran Scott Ross reflected on the heated disagreements he had with James Cameron during the making of Titanic and the impact it might have had on Digital Domain — the VFX company that Cameron, Ross and the late Stan Winston founded in 1993 and which handled the Oscar-winning work on Cameron’s epic film.

Ross left Digital Domain in 2006. In 2012, it filed for bankruptcy. Today, the majority owner is Digital Domain Holdings (previously Sun Innovations), which is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange. “Digital Domain I think would be a very different company today had Jim and I got along. [If I had figured out a way to handle the situation better], I think Digital Domain would be as successful as Pixar,” he said on Wednesday during the Trojan Horse Was a Unicorn VFX, game and animation festival in Troia, Portugal.

“Second to my mother dying, [making Titanic] was the worst experience of my life,” Ross admitted, saying he was under very public, “unbelievable pressure” when the budget was rising while the need to complete more work for the director nearly bankrupt the company. “I felt like I had no support,” Ross said. "The studio sided with Jim, I could never ask Fox for a change order. We were the fall guys."

“I went head to head with Jim Cameron over and over again,” he recalled, adding that it's more important to win the war than the battle. “I could have handled my relationship with Jim in a much better way ... more strategically."

During the conversation, Ross — a “street kid from Queens” who during a 25-year career in the VFX business also held executive positions at Lucasfilm — was asked his views on a range of subjects, including his thoughts on the alleged anti-poaching agreements involving the likes of Pixar’s Ed Catmull, which sparked litigation.

“To me, Ed Catmull was always a shining light,” Ross responded. “When I found out, my initial reaction was to defend him. But I knew people around him are very smart. … and no matter how you look at it, it’s illegal.

“I would have been more lenient had it been (Rhythm & Hues founder) John Hughes, he was doing everything he could to keep his company alive,” he added. “But if you look at Pixar, it’s an incredibly successful company, I was so torn between thinking of Ed as a hero but [allegedly] doing such a diabolical thing.”

During the session, Ross called the indie world a “saving grace” in cinema, noting that he “sat through 10 minutes of The Hobbit and walked out."  Now cable TV is where it’s at the U.S. My concern is that Netflix is going to the same people, such as David Fincher. I think there will be [new types of] displays and when there’s change there will be opportunities for all artists.”

Ross is currently looking to raise funds for a startup aimed at creating technology and content for emerging heads up techologies/virtual reality/augmented reality platforms. In particular, to create experiences that would allow a user to look at a historical location with a heads up display and see the location as it was in the distant past.

He is additionally looking to make a couple films, including one about the dropping of the atomic bomb and one about the early years of Christ. And, he wants to “help save the VFX business. It’s been my life.”

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

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