Cannes 2012: Digital Domain to Launch Abu Dhabi Studio

Cannes 2012: Wayne Borg and John Textor

"There is tremendous opportunity to produce original entertainment content for Middle Eastern audiences worldwide, and to bring Hollywood work and our own original productions here," says CEO John Textor.

Digital production company Digital Domain MediaGroup will establish an animation, visual effects and motion capture studio and a media school in Abu Dhabi.

The company, co-founded in 1993 by James Cameron, made the announcement with twofour54, the Abu Dhabi government-backed media and entertainment hub in the emirate, here in Cannes.

They said the move will further drive development of the film, TV and media production industry in the Middle East and further the emirate’s goal to become the region’s center of excellence for content creation.

The new studio will create animated feature films and produce original Middle Eastern-developed and -branded entertainment for global audiences. It will also contribute to international productions and produce visual and 3D effects.

"This marks the first time a major, global studio has established a presence in the region," the companies said in a statement.

Digital Domain CEO and chairman John Textor told THR that the company, which has recently pushed into developing movies as in the case of Ender's Game, will become one of the first foreign players to look to develop stories from the region, although no specific projects are in the pipeline yet.

"There is tremendous opportunity to produce original entertainment content for Middle Eastern audiences worldwide, and to bring Hollywood work and our own original productions here as well," he said. "Storytelling is not something Hollywood owns. There are great stories beyond the U.S., and the Arab diaspora that we can target is 1.7 billion people strong."

Said Wayne Borg, deputy CEO and COO of twofour54: “Digital Domain represents the next great leap forward for twofour54 and Abu Dhabi - a strong move into digital production and the development of locally created feature films and TV content.”

Textor also said that the facility will allow his firm to run a true 24/7 worldwide operation in connection with its film VFX and animation pipeline connected to its studios in Los Angeles, Vancouver, San Francisco, London, Florida and Mumbai.

But he didn't provide details about the size of the company's investment beyond saying that it was on a "significantly larger scale" than the firm's $50 million studio in China and an $80 million Florida investment.

Will the move to Abu Dhabi hurt the LA industry? "The world is growing, and its more about getting us to a 24-hour work cycle.," he said. "It is not anti-LA, but it is highly likely that a piece of work on your project is done outside LA."

Digital Domain will begin production of visual effects and animation in studios in the emirate in early 2013, with a production complex set to be operational by the end of 2015. The company isplanning to recruit locally and internationally with the goal of employing over time upwards of 500 people in Abu Dhabi.

That staffing level would rival the company's Florida headquarters, which is on its way to 500. That compares to a staff of around 330 in California, around 300 in Vancouver.

Late last week, twofour54 announced that Abu Dhabi would launch a 30 percent tax rebate for film, TV and commercial projects in September as a production incentive.
Textor said that even before the incentives, Abu Dhabi has low-cost labor that costs twice as much as in India, but is "still substantially lower than in LA or Vancouver."

"Abu Dhabi was the natural location for us given its strategic location, modern infrastructure and supportive government," said Textor. "We’re looking forward to grooming up-and-coming Arab filmmakers at a time of such great awakening in this part of the world.”

He also lauded the "very supportive ex-patriot community, openness and acceptance of different religions" in Abu Dhabi.

twofour54 says it is home to more than 160 local, regional and international media companies, including CNN, the BBC, Ubisoft, News Corp.'s Fox International Channels, Time Warner's Cartoon Network, Financial Times and Charisma.

Digital Domain, which went public late last year, is known for a hologram of dead rapper Tupac Shakur that appeared at the Coachella Valley Music Festival together with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre.