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Digital Domain purchase

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In a move that could revive the fortunes of one of the industry’s top visual effects houses, action-director Michael Bay and four other principals in a Florida-based investor group that includes former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino last month bought Digital Domain. The purchase price was estimated at between $30 and $40 million.Bay, director of Pearl Harbor and other notable blockbusters, will serve as co-chairman of the board of Digital Domain, which has over the last decade won two Oscars for work on feature films Titanic and What Dreams May Come and three for technical and scientific achievements for its proprietary imaging software. Digital Domain has also been one of the leading effects houses in the TV commercial sector.The other co-chairman is John Textor, founder and head of Wyndcrest Holdings, the acquiring investor group. Coming out of a Wall Street investment banking background, Textor started the venture capital firm during the dot.com heyday of the 1990s. Today it has a diverse portfolio of businesses; one of the largest is BabyUniverse, an online site selling high-end apparel and products for infants. Textor knows Bay from college days at Wesleyan University and Bay has been his business partner through Wyndcrest for eight years. Textor helped design a website for Pearl Harbor.Speculation that the new team will invest more heavily in developing state-of-the-art effects software, a potentially lucrative but costly area, comes with the appointment of Carl Stork as the new chief executive. Another Wyndcrest partner, his background is steeped in technology. He worked at Microsoft where he was technical assistant to Bill Gates and was instrumental in developing and rolling out Microsoft’s Windows 95/98 operating system during the 1990s.Scott Ross, Digital Domain’s former chairman and CEO, has dropped all operational connections to the firm he founded in 1993 with director James Cameron and legendary special effects and creature wizard Stan Winston. Ross will continue as a consultant.Providing continuity, C. Bradley Call will remain as president and CEO, running the company on a day-to-day basis. He’s had that job since 2002.Digital Domain is considered one of the industry’s top effects houses along with Rhythm & Hues, Industrial Light and Magic, and Sony Pictures Imageworks, but lately has fallen from the top perch. Call said the new ownership group “will provide the necessary capital and strategic resources to allow us to grow our business profitably in both feature films and in advertising.”Bay, who started in music videos and commercials, is famous for directing over-the-top action sequences, known as “Bayhem,” in films such as Bad Boys I and II, The Rock and The Island. He is presently directing Transformers: The Movie, Paramount’s 2007 summer tentpole. With Bay’s new backing, Digital Domain may have a chance to garner a nice chunk of the film’s VFX assignments.“Rapidly evolving digital visual effects technology is going to allow motion picture directors to tell even more compelling and visually stunning stories in the future, and we believe that Digital Domain is uniquely positioned to take advantage of these new technologies, as well as new distribution channels and platforms,” Bay said when the purchase was announced.Textor said the new ownership group was committed “to build the commercial and film industries’ leading director-centric visual effects business.” He added: “Through the addition of new capital and the appropriate strategic relationships, we are also committed to the extension of the Digital Domain business into the direct development of animated films and effects-reliant live-action films.”

Written by Jack Egan

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