The Digital 50

Producers embrace tech to create new storytelling opportunities

The Producers Guild of America has selected its Digital 50, which recognizes the producers and innovators who distinguished themselves in the realm of digital storytelling in 2007. In August, the PGA membership made their selections from a field of nominees in seven areas: animation, broadband/iTV, cross-platform, DVD, games, mobile and visual effects. The Digital 50 voting was overseen by the PGA's New Media Council and approved by its board of delegates. This year marks the second consecutive year the PGA has selected a Digital 50. Leading the voting this year is Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who played a transformative role in the distribution of entertainment in 2007 with the launch of the iPhone and the continued growth of the iPod line. His legacy at Pixar, the animation company he co-founded, also seemed to influence voters, especially given their second and third top selections: Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter and writer-director Brad Bird, the creative forces behind such recent Pixar hits as "Cars" and "Ratatouille." Key Pixar execs Jim Morris, Rick Sayre and Ed Catmull came in at Nos. 6, 12 and 13, respectively. Top directors were also well represented on the Digital 50, with Peter Jackson, Robert Zemeckis and David Fincher finishing at Nos. 4, 5 and 7, respectively. Last year's top vote-getter, Mark Cuban, slipped to No. 17 on the list.

1. Steve Jobs
Cross-platform
Jobs continues to lead the industry in all things digital. With the launch of the iPhone and the continued growth of iPod, he is changing the landscape for distribution of entertainment content. Apple has sold 52 million iPods this year alone and nearly 1.4 million iPhones since its June launch -- and iTunes, which now accounts for more than 80% of online music sales, has sold more than 3 billion songs, 100 million TV shows and two million movies to date. Jobs remains on Disney's board of directors following its merger with Pixar -- a company he co-founded that has grossed more than $3.2 billion at the worldwide boxoffice to date.

2. John Lasseter
Animation
Since Pixar merged with Disney last year, Lasseter's positions as chief creative officer at Pixar and Disney Animation Studios and principal creative advisor for Walt Disney Imagineering place him in charge of overseeing all Pixar and Disney animated films. Lasseter has directed animated runaway successes such as 1995's "Toy Story" and 2006's "Cars" and executive produced 2003's "Finding Nemo," 2004's "The Incredibles," "Ratatouille" and the anticipated 2008 release, "Wall-E."

3. Brad Bird
Animation
A gifted storyteller, writer-director Brad Bird has become a superstar in the world of modern animation. After working on such television series as Steven Spielberg's "Amazing Stories" and Fox's "The Simpsons," Bird made his feature film debut with 1999's "The Iron Giant" -- a cult favorite among animation enthusiast -- and followed that with 2004's Oscar-winning "The Incredibles" and Disney's summer blockbuster "Ratatouille." Bird will next direct his first live-action film, Warner Bros. planned 2009 release "1906," based James Dalessandro's fictionalized account of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

4. Peter Jackson
Visual Effects
With the completion of his Oscar-winning "Lord of the Rings" trilogy in 2003, Jackson secured his place in the pantheon of filmmaking and special effects wizardry. He is currently directing "The Lovely Bones," based on Alice Sebold's best-selling book, and will next produce the sci-fi thriller "District 9." Additionally, he and Steven Spielberg are planning to produce and direct three back-to-back films based on the comic book series "The Adventures of Tintin," using 3-D animation and motion-capture technology.

5. Robert Zemeckis
Visual Effects
Zemeckis continues to push the technology envelope with his pioneering use of performance-capture technology in such films as 2004's "Polar Express," 2006's "Monster House" and Paramount's "Beowulf," which will be released in 3-D. He'll next direct "A Christmas Carol," starring Jim Carrey and produced by Disney and his performance-capture film company, ImageMovers Digital. The Oscar-winning director is also fostering the next generation of digital filmmakers through the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts at USC.

6. Jim Morris
Animation
The founding chair of the Visual Effects Society, Morris served as general manager of Industrial Light + Magic for 13 years and president of Lucas Digital for 11 years. Under his leadership, ILM created groundbreaking effects on more than 150 films. He joined Pixar Animation Studios as executive vp in 2005, where he oversees all feature, short-film, theme park and DVD production. He is currently producing the Pixar feature "Wall-E," which Disney will release next summer.

7. David Fincher
Visual Effects
The avant-garde director earned critical acclaim for his work on commercials and music videos before helming such films as 1995's "Seven," 1999's "Fight Club" and Paramount's "Zodiac." Fincher is a pioneer in digital motion picture photography, previsualization techniques, performance capture, compositing and tapeless digital postproduction. He is currently using the Contour camera system to transform Brad Pitt's character in Paramount's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," about a man who ages in reverse. He next plans to direct Paramount's "The Killer," based on the graphic novel.

8. Shigeru Miyamoto
Games
Shigeru Miyamoto has been called the "Spielberg" of the video game industry, having created such classics as "Donkey Kong," "Super Mario Bros." and "The Legend of Zelda." Currently the head of game development for Nintendo, Miyamoto has participated in the production of more than 90 video games and was the mastermind behind the Wii game console, which has so far sold 13.6 million units worldwide.

9. Dennis Muren
Visual Effects
During his three-decade career at Industrial Light + Magic, Muren has earned a staggering nine Academy Awards and a near-mythic status among visual effects aficionados. Earlier this year, Muren was honored with the lifetime achievement award by the Visual Effects Society for his groundbreaking work on such films as 1982's "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," 1984's "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," 1989's "The Abyss," 1991's "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," 1993's "Jurassic Park" and all but one of the "Star Wars" films. He is currently working on a book about visual effects.

10. James Cameron
Visual Effects
James Cameron's name has been attached to some of the most creative and technologically innovative films of the past 20 years, including 1989's computer-generated water special effects pioneer, "The Abyss," and the 1997 mega-epic "Titanic," which still holds both the domestic and worldwide boxoffice records. Cameron is currently at work directing his first feature film in over a decade, Fox's big-budget sci-fi epic "Avatar," reteaming him with "Aliens" (1986) alum Sigourney Weaver.

11. John Dykstra
Visual Effects
Dykstra has been a pioneer in effects technology for more than three decades, making his name as the effects supervisor on 1977's "Star Wars." As the first head of Industrial Light + Magic, Dykstra invented and developed the Dystraflex motion-controlled camera, which earned him a technical achievement Oscar in 1978. The following year, he founded his effects company, Apogee, where for the "Battlestar Galactica" series he developed benchmark motion-control and blue-screen technologies.

12. Rick Sayre
Animation
As technical director and production software developer for Pixar Animation Studios, Sayre has developed warping, painting, image-processing and shading tools and worked on such features as 1998's "A Bug's Life," 2001's "Monsters Inc." and 2004's "The Incredibles." In 1997, he earned a technical achievement Oscar for developing an innovative animation input device.

13. Ed Catmull
Animation
Now serving as president of Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios, Catmull has been advancing digital technology since he was a student at the University of Utah, where he made three major discoveries in fundamental computer graphics: Z-buffering, texture mapping and bicubic patches. The PGA presented Catmull (along with Lasseter and Jobs) with the Vanguard Award in 2002, and he has earned four Oscars for his technical achievements: in 1993 for the development of Pixar's "RenderMan" software; in 1996, for inventions in digital image compositing; in 2001, for advancement in the field of rendering; and last year, for his subdivision surfaces as a modeling technique.

14. Barry Diller
Cross-platform
As chairman and CEO of InterActive Corp. (IAC), a new-media conglomerate specializing in e-commerce, the film and television veteran is quickly becoming a titan in the online world. The company has made major acquisitions of Internet companies, including Ticketmaster, Expedia, Citysearch, Match.com and LendingTree. In 2005, IAC acquired Ask.com, a strategic move to stake their claim in the lucrative Internet search sector.

15. Brooke Breton
Visual Effects
Breton has been involved with a number of technologically innovative film and television projects including "Star Trek: The Next Generation," 2002's "Solaris," 2003's "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," and 2004's "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow," which she co-produced. Breton is currently at work as visual effects supervisor and co-producer for James Cameron's "Avatar."

16. Larry Page & Sergey Brin
Broadband/iTV
Thanks to a number of acquisitions and partnerships, Google is poised to become a major player in Internet television. The company acquired the popular video sharing site YouTube, and Google Video is evolving into a leading search engine for video content. Last year, Google and News Corp.'s Fox Interactive Media entered into an agreement to provide search and advertising on MySpace. An agreement with Apple TV will allow users to wirelessly stream YouTube videos from Internet connections and play them on their television sets.

17. Mark Cuban
Broadband/iTV
Mark Cuban might have hung up his dancing shoes, but the show goes on for him in the digital world. His Landmark Theatres flagship opened in Los Angeles in June, continuing Cuban's crusade to lead the way in digital- and adult-friendly theaters as the chain's co-owner. His production company, 2929 Prods., has a number of impressive credits including Sony's "We Own the Night." And the two high-definition cable channels Cuban founded, HDNet and HDNet Movies, provide viewers with HD films and programming on the small screen.

18. Lydia Bottegoni
Visual Effects
A veteran of Sony Pictures Animation and Sony Pictures Imageworks, Bottegoni is one of the most versatile and talented visual effects producers in the industry. She served as visual effects producer for 1999's "Stuart Little," 2002's "Spider-Man" and 2004's "Spider-Man 2," which won an Oscar for visual effects. Bottegoni co-produced Sony's "Surf's Up" and is currently in production on the company's planned 2009 release "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs."

19. Michelle Murdocca
Animation
Murdocca is a leader in digital character animation and visual effects production. She joined Sony Pictures Imageworks in 1998, where she served as senior visual effects producer on 1999's "Stuart Little" and 2002's "Stuart Little 2." When Sony Pictures Animation was formed in 2002, she was named vp animation and went on to produce the company's feature-length animated film "Open Season" (2006). She is currently producing the company's planned 2009 release "Hotel Transylvania."

20. Joanna Drake Earl
Broadband/iTV
Earl was the first executive to join Current TV co-founders Al Gore and Joel Hyatt in building the groundbreaking cable and satellite network devoted to viewer-created content. As Current TV's president of new media, she has been the architect and manager of the network's Web-based participation platform. In addition, she oversees the development of new media products and is building partnerships with leading multiplatform distribution partners.

21. Evan Spiridellis & Gregg
Spiridellis
Cross-platform
Their online comedy studio JibJab Media achieved international fame in 2004 with viral political satires "This Land" and "Good to be in DC!" which were view more than 80 million times. The company now creates and distributes original and third-party content including branded entertainment for clients such as Anheuser-Busch, Verizon Wireless, Sony and Kraft Foods.

22. Ken Ralston
Visual Effects
Visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston earned five Oscars during his nearly two decades at Industrial Light + Magic for his work on such films as 1983's "Return of the Jedi," 1985's "Cocoon," 1988's "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" the "Back to the Future" franchise and three of the "Star Trek" movies. Joining Sony Pictures Imageworks in 1995 -- where he served as president until 1997 -- he continues to take visual effect to new heights on such films as Paramount's "Beowulf."

23. Phil Tippett
Visual Effects
Phil Tippett has breathed life into some of the big screen's most extraordinary creatures. He began his career at Industrial Light + Magic working on films like 1977's "Star Wars." In 1982, he developed the animation technique known as Go-Motion, and, as creature head of the ILM creature shop worked on 1983's "Return of the Jedi," for which he won a special achievement Oscar. Tippett founded Tippet Studios in 1984 and has since worked on such films as 1993's "Jurassic Park" -- for which he earned another Oscar. Currently, he is working on Paramount's planned 2008 release "The Spiderwick Chronicles."

24. John Knoll
Visual Effects
John Knoll joined Industrial Light + Magic as a technical assistant in 1986. He worked as a camera operator and then as CG supervisor on the groundbreaking visual effects in 1989's "The Abyss." Since that time, he has served as visual effects supervisor on more than 15 feature films including 1994's "Star Trek: Generations," 1996's "Mission: Impossible," the three "Star Wars" prequels and Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise, which earned him an Oscar earlier this year.

25. Chris Wedge
Animation
Oscar-winning animator Chris Wedge has worked as animation supervisor, writer, director and/or producer on such films as 1982's "Tron," 2002's "Ice Age," 2005's "Robots" and the upcoming adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic "Horton Hears a Who!" Wedge is the co-founder and vp creative development at Blue Sky Studios, one of the industry's leading animation shops. He is slated to direct the upcoming animated film "The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs" for 20th Century Fox Animation, based on the best-selling children's book by William Joyce.

26. Peter Moore
Games
Peter Moore is the president of EA Sports, the video game industry's most lucrative franchise, producers of mammoth titles like the "Madden NFL" and "NBA Live" series. The former vp of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business division, Moore rose to prominence at Sega, being a major "player" in the company's North American operations during the Dreamcast era. Always the enthusiastic gaming exec, Moore is rumored to have not one but two video game tattoos, for "Halo 2" and "Grand Theft Auto IV."

27. Chris Thomes
Broadband/iTV
Chris Thomes is an executive producer at Disney and the mastermind behind a new integrated broadband entertainment experience called Disney Xtreme Digital, or Disney XD. Launched in early 2007, the new technology allows kids to make their entertainment personal, creating their own XD channels by combining favorite characters, videos and games in a style that is uniquely theirs. Thomes also created Playhouse Disney's Preschool Time Online, a premium subscription-based service.

28. Jerry Yang
Broadband/iTV
Taiwanese native Jerry Yang co-created Yahoo with David Filo in April 1994 and also co-founded Yahoo Inc. in April 1995, becoming the company's CEO in 2007. He is a driving force in the Internet media industry, helping to position Yahoo as one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Yang serves on Yahoo's board of directors, the board of directors for Cisco Systems, Yahoo Japan and Alibaba.

29. Lucy Hood
Mobile
Prior to her departure last month, Hood had been a key architect of News Corp.'s mobile strategy. She helped launch Fox Mobile Entertainment in 2005, and has overseen a number of wireless firsts such as text voting on Fox's "American Idol," inventing the "mobisode" -- short-form 3G mobile content -- and offering the first sponsored video content in the U.S. Last year, she oversaw News Corp.'s strategic move into global mobile entertainment, an alliance that merged Fox Mobile Entertainment with partner Jamba's assets to form the first vertically integrated mobile entertainment company.

30. Beth Comstock
Broadband/iTV
When she was promoted to president of NBC Universal Integrated Media earlier this year, Comstock added oversight of television ad sales to an already impressive list of responsibilities. The busy executive is also at the helm of NBC Universal's digital media research and marketing teams, guiding the company's digital strategy, business, content and distribution efforts. Comstock had previously served as General Electric's chief marketing officer, leading integrated communications and cross-business growth programs.

31. Dean Devlin
Cross-platform
In addition to producing a number of successful films including 1994's "Stargate," 1996's "Independence Day," and 1998's "Godzilla," Devlin has been a pioneer in the use of digital technology. He created the first movie marketing Web site for "Stargate" and was among the first producers to use Panavision's Genesis 35mm digital format for last year's "Flyboys." Currently, Devlin is in preproduction on MGM's sci-fi thriller "Isobar," and will be making his directorial debut on the paranormal thriller "Ghosting."

32. Charlotte Clay
Huggins
Cross-platform
Huggins is a leading producer of digital live-action and animated 3-D features, giant-screen films and special venue attractions. Prior to founding her company, Salient Features, she was president of production at nWave Pictures, where she produced more than a dozen giant-screen films including "Haunted Castle," "S.O.S. Planet" and "Wild Safari 3-D." Currently, she is producing two digital films: "Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D," a co-venture of Walden Media and New Line Cinema based on the Jules Verne novel, and "Fly Me to the Moon," a 3-D feature from nWave Pictures.

33. Henry Selick
Animation
A master of stop-motion animation, Henry Selick made his directorial debut with the 1993 hit "The Nightmare Before Christmas." His follow-up was the even more ambitious "James and the Giant Peach" (1996), which blended stop-motion animation with computer-generated imagery and live action. His current production, "Coraline," based on the Neil Gaiman novel, will be the first feature film shot entirely in 3-D stop-motion animation.

34. Donick Carey
Mobile
The Emmy-winning "Simpsons" writer created the first breakout hit in the mobile space with his animated political satire "Lil' Bush." The series, which was created for Amp'd Mobile, became the first mobile-to-TV crossover when it premiered on Comedy Central in June. Comedy Central recently renewed the series for a second season.

35. Eric Zimmerman
Games
An innovative game theorist and designer, Zimmerman co-founded the independent development company Gamelab. The company's smart and inventive games -- including "Diner Dash," "Miss Management" and "BLiX" -- appeal to a broad audience of casual gamers and continually expand the definition of what games can be. Zimmerman hosts the annual Game Design Challenge at the Game Developers Conference and is the director of the RE:PLAY series of events and activities on gaming. He teaches game theory at a number of top universities and has co-authored four books on the subject.

36. Sean Cushing
Visual Effects
Pixel Liberation Front executive producer Sean Cushing has been a leader in previsualization techniques with projects including 2004's "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow," 2006's "Superman Returns," Sony's "Spider-Man 3" and Paramount's planned 2008 release "Iron Man." Under Cushing's guidance, PLF is adding finished shots and development of original content to their slate using the low-cost motion capture system VICON FK Extreme and the Unreal Engine 3 game engine.

37. Dr. Eric Schmidt
Broadband/iTV
As chairman and CEO of Google, Schmidt is building the corporate infrastructure needed to maintain the ever-growing company. Along with founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, he is responsible for Google's day-to-day operations. Previously, Schmidt handled strategic planning, management and technology development for Novell. He was also chief technology officer and corporate executive officer at Sun Microsystems, where he led the development of Java, Sun's platform-independent programming technology.

38. Brian Seth Hurst
Cross-platform
Hurst is sometimes called "the father of cross-platform." Not just because he coined the term, but because he is an authority on brand extension, distribution and content as it relates to technology and consumer lifestyles. He is CEO of Opportunity Management Co., a strategic consultancy and cross-media production company where he developed the Rapid Cross Media Initiative, two-day seminars designed to help broadcasters, networks and content rights holders navigate new-media opportunities.

39. Jeffrey Lerner
DVD
Lerner is the executive producer for New Wave Entertainment's home entertainment division, which specializes in the research, creation and development of content for HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc formats. Most recently, Lerner worked with Warner Home Video on their development and launch of HD-DVD special features for such films as "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" and 2005's "V for Vendetta," "Batman Begins" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

40. Philip Rosedale
Cross-platform
Philip Rosedale is the founder and CEO of Linden Lab, creator of the 3-D virtual community Second Life that allows users, or "residents," to interact, create virtual homes and businesses, buy or sell virtual goods and services, and earn Linden Dollars, which can be bought or sold for real currency. Second Life is not only attracting gamers, but entrepreneurs and big business looking to sell new products and promote their brands.

41. Albert Cheng
Broadband/iTV
As executive vp digital media at Disney-ABC Television Group, Albert Cheng oversees general management and digital media strategy, and is also charged with development of ancillary revenue streams for the TV Group's broadcast and cable networks. Additionally, Cheng heads up a newly created digital media team, charged with overseeing marketing and operations for interactive television technologies, video-on-demand, broadband, and Web-based and mobile platforms.

42. Shalom Mann
Games
As senior vp of Sony Online Entertainment-Los Angeles, Shalom Mann is charged with overseeing licensing, distribution and game design. As a gamer's gamer, he has executive produced over 40 games in the past five years alone. Mann joined Sony in 1999 and rose to become the vp of Sony Pictures Advanced Platforms Group, where he was responsible for the day-to-day operations of a team of engineers focused on emerging mobile and wireless application technologies.

43. Laurent Bouzereau
DVD
Laurent Bouzereau is a producer, director and writer of home video/movie documentaries whose credits include over 150 "making-of" documentaries and featurettes. Bouzereau has also helped to create laserdisc and DVD special editions for classic films such as 1975's "Jaws" and 1976's "Taxi Driver." Outside of independent filmmaking, he has authored "The De Palma Cut," an analysis of director Brian De Palma's work. Bouzereau's other published works include "The Alfred Hitchcock Quote Book" and "Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays."

44. Brent Friedman
Cross-platform
As the co-creator and executive producer of the sci-fi animated Web series "Afterworld," Brent Friedman is enjoying the attention his show is receiving. Bud.TV and Sony Pictures International have picked up the rights to "Afterworld" with the intent to develop it into an MMO and explore other possible formats for the series, including mobile and television. Friedman is currently at work on the original Imax project "Godzilla 3-D" and the recently released Electronic Arts video game "Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars" was written by him.

45. Jerome Chen Sr.
Visual Effects
Currently the senior visual effects supervisor for Sony Pictures Imageworks, Jerome Chen Sr.'s digital imagery techniques first garnered him Academy attention in 2000, when he received an Oscar nomination in the visual effects category for 1999's "Stuart Little." Chen would go on to surpass his own work, making advances in feather systems and photo-real integration as visual effects supervisor on 2002's "Stuart Little 2." His latest efforts are on display in Paramount's upcoming motion-capture epic "Beowulf."

46. Lauren Zalaznick
Broadband/iTV
Zalaznick, who has been the president of Bravo cable television network since 2004, recently expanded her oversight when the network announced the formation of Bravo Media, a new multimedia global content company. During her tenure, the network has set ratings records and garnered popular buzz, critical acclaim and five Emmy nominations for such programs as "Project Runway" and "Inside the Actors Studio." Under Zalaznick's guidance, the network has broken new ground with a suite of broadband services, making Bravo a leading provider of wireless content.

47. Bob Chapek
DVD
In his role as president, Chapek has turned Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment into a reliable performer that released three of the top-selling DVDs of 2006: "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," "Cars," and "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." A proponent of Blu-ray Disc, Chapek gave a boost to the format when he released the first two "Pirate" films on Blu-ray just as installment No. 3 debuted in theaters. He also recently launched a Blu-ray mall tour where consumers in 20 U.S. cities can interact with the format. Chapek serves as the chairman of the Digital Entertainment Group, a studio-funded advocacy group for DVD, next-generation disc formats and other emerging digital technologies.

48. Kelley Avery
DVD
In her second year as president of Paramount Home Entertainment, Avery has turned out a string of overperforming DVDs. Last year, her division -- which distributes Paramount Vantage, DreamWorks, MTV, CBS, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon products as well -- generated more than $3 billion in revenues for the first time in the studio's history. Observers give credit to Avery's visionary leadership as well as the top marketing team she's assembled.

49. Yair Landau
Cross-platform
As president of Sony Pictures Digital, Landau oversees Sony Pictures Imageworks, Sony Pictures Animation and Sony Online Entertainment -- bringing together some of the world's top artists, technologists and production software engineers. Imageworks is a leader in visual effects with recent credits including Sony's "Spider-Man 3," Paramount's "Beowulf" and Warner Bros.' upcoming "I Am Legend." Sony Pictures Animation creates some of most innovative work in the field with hits like 2006's "Monster House" and this year's "Surf's Up." And Sony Online Entertainment has grown into a worldwide leader in multiplayer online games and blockbuster franchises. Yandau also played a leading role in launching the first major studio Internet movie download service, Movielink, in 2002.

50. Peter Becker
DVD
Peter Becker is the president of the Criterion Collection, the leading distributor of authoritative DVD releases of classic and contemporary films. Criterion has pioneered many DVD innovations, including the use of letterboxing and the release of multdisc sets, special editions and definitive versions. Noted for its rigorous standards, Criterion traces the best source materials for classic films and has engaged in thorough video clean-ups -- a practice that has influenced other home entertainment companies.


-- Harrison Shuldman and Shaun Semanyk contributed to this staff report
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