The special effects company Digital Domain has filed for bankruptcy. According to reports, the company tried to expand too quickly, opening an animation hub in Florida with a loan that turned into a “death spiral”leaving the public company unable to pay its debts.
It’s a sad state of affairs for a company that has been a major special effects pioneer in Hollywood. Most of the articles published today refer to Digital Domain as the special effects house behind Titanic. While true, that just scratches the surface of what Digital Domain has contributed to the film industry.
Director James Cameron founded the Venice-based company in 1993 but he split with the company in 1998 because of a a clash of management styles. An investor group led by Michael Bay bought the company for $35 million and set about hiring the best special effects people from George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic.
They did ground breaking work with the 2008 filmThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The effects in the movie, directed by David Fincher, were subtle. Benjamin Button tells the story of a man, played byBrad Pitt, who is born old and gets younger through the years. Many of the early scenes, when Benjamin is young but looks very old, seemed to be played by an old man.
But in reality, Brad Pitt acted those scenes. He performed them in a booth and then the movement of his face was used for a digital mask that covered an actors head in the movie. It’s a fascinating process and you can read more about it in the story I wrote titled A Star Is Reborn.
The technology paved the way for seamless effects that could place one person’s face on another persons body. They used the trick again in Tron: Legacy where Jeff Bridges faced off against a younger version of himself.
You can draw a direct line from those advances to holographic Tupac which was also a Digital Domain innovation. There’s no doubt we’ll see more dead celebrities performing and even possible staring in movies down the line and you will have Digital Domain to thank for that.
Deadline Hollywood is reporting that Searchlight Capital Partners has agreed to buy the effects house for $15 million. With some smarter business people at the head of the company, let’s hope the clever engineers at Digital Domain get the chance to keep inventing.