ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.9 - DECEMBER 1999

SimEx Digital Studios:
Specialty Venues and More

An Interview with Allen Yamashita

by Heather Kenyon

Allen Yamashita, Creative Director of SimEx Digital Studios. © SimEx Digital Studios.

Located in the heart of Santa Monica, SimEx Digital Studios consists of 20 artists who provide imagery for the television, feature, interactive and specialty venue industries. Led by veteran filmmakers Allen Yamashita and Nick Bates, SimEx envisions innovative and cost-effective answers to a range of media questions. Yamashita believes that the small size of the company allows it to be flexible so they can concentrate on the challenging projects that they prefer to tackle. And, while too small in size to handle all the effects for an entire feature, they often receive that one sequence that no one else can figure out.

Launched in 1994 by Yamashita, SimEx specializes in high-end computer animation, graphics and digital imagery. Recently, the SimEx team has completed commercials for such high-profile clients as Coca-Cola, Dunlop, Kellogg's, McDonald's, Sony, Lockheed-Martin and Panasonic. SimEx also has an ongoing relationship with Rhythm & Hues, and have together recently completed spots for Repairnow.com and General Mills. The SimEx team also collaborates with international marketing and communications company Pittard Sullivan with recent credits including projects for PBS "Nature," The Travel Channel, King World, and Sat.1. SimEx feature film credits include: Event Horizon for Paramount, Rocket Man for Disney, and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation for New Line Cinema. They are currently at work on a new feature for Disney Pictures.

SimEx brought to life 3D characters in Hi-def from David Macaulay's children's book for Sony and Metreon.
© SimEx Digital Studios.

Yamashita received his training under director and visual effects maestro Douglas Trumbull, where he served as Trumbull's assistant during the completion of Blade Runner and the production of Brainstorm. Prior to working with Trumbull, Yamashita spent a two-year apprenticeship under the late director Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?). An authority in the specialty-venue film industry, Yamashita's credits include: The Way Things Work for the Sony Metreon Center, Impact! for a consortium of science centers and museums throughout the world, Pilot for Ogden Entertainment, Mars for NHK Broadcasting, Days of Thunder for Paramount Parks, Terabyss/Rockers Adventure for the Saison Group, and Seatrek for Ontario Place.

A stunning scene from the motion-based film Mars.
© SimEx Digital Studios.

Unlike most companies in this arena, SimEx started in specialty venue films and then moved into special effects as opportunities presented themselves. Yamashita presents SimEx as a creative production company. Whether the client has an empty building, a show in mind, or just a concept, if that, SimEx is "happy to provide services in whatever category, whether it is executing their idea or one of our own. We actually work more in the latter." In fact, they are often contacted solely for the creative development of a project.

Heather Kenyon: What was it like working with Douglas Trumbull and what do you think the most important lesson was that you learned from him?

Allen Yamashita: Many people don't know that Douglas was one of the first people to propose viable technologies for location-based entertainment. In the late 1970s he constructed one of the first working entertainment motion simulators. He also developed high-frame-rate film/projection techniques (Showscan) that yielded startlingly clear high-resolution images that were also capable of being projected very large. Doug directed and I produced the first large-scale flight simulation attraction, Tour of the Universe in Toronto, which employed a Showscan picture, digital soundtrack, and 40 seat 6-DOF motion base in 1985.

To answer your question, he is one of the greatest entertainment designers of our time. He is that rare combination of artist and scientist embodied in one person. Doug was the only guy I've ever met that could design a shot and conceive the equipment that was required to achieve it. He taught me many important things -- most of which he probably isn't aware of.

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