Digital Productions Solutions (DPS), the animation unit of IDT Media, has entered into a joint venture with Vanguard Animation to co-produce and co-own all Vanguard properties, as well as buy a minority stake of Vanguard in the eight-figure range. The announcement follows on the heels of DPS's acquisition of a majority stake in Film Roman Inc.
With strategic partners in the TV and direct-to-DVD arenas, Newark, New Jersey-based DPS hopes to build a CG film library with Vanguard. Vanguard, founded by ceo John H. Williams, and president Neil Braun, has a four-picture deal with Disney, starting with VALIANT, as well as projects with DreamWorks and Nickelodeon/Paramount. Williams produced the blockbuster SHREK and is working on SHREK 2. Braun has been president of NBC, chairman/ceo of Viacom, president of Imagine Ent. and svp of HBO.
In addition to IDT's deep pockets, Vanguard plans to make use of the DPS virtual computer animation studio, an affiliate network, which consists of some 2,000 animation studios or animators around the world online with production hubs in Los Angeles, Newark and Israel.
"We've done what every other major studio has wanted to do," said Morris Berger, president of DPS. "We've created a worldwide virtual studio to produce 3D computer graphic animation at the highest quality, what we refer to as Pixar-like quality. We can do this in a more cost and time efficient manner than any other studio.
"We're highly scalable and we can mange multiple projects at the same time without sacrificing quality, speed or efficiency," Berger claims. He said DPS can manage people in distant locations, "better than most can manage somebody in their own studio."
Braun said "DPS has built a killer app in animation, layering on their worldwide telecom infrastructure an Internet protocol to literally create the virtual studio that other people only dream of. Coupled with their [IDT's] balance sheet and willingness to finance us, this positions us to be an important player in the animation business," Braun continued.
"When we started this company," Williams added, "we wanted to find a different paradigm on how to make computer-animated films, and where we could cut down on the production cycle from a four to five year norm, to what would be a two-year cycle based on very carefully developed scripts with the goal of Pixar/SHREK-level animation at 50% of the cost After looking at various production solutions around the world, DPS offered a production technology solution we thought that would be incredibly valuable."
Williams continued, "The combination of us being creative and production partners, with the added clout of their financial capabilities will help us become a creative force that we think is in the category of what will be a Pixar of the future."
"We consider ourselves like a Pixar on steroids," said Berger.
They may see themselves as a powerhouse, but distribution, as well as a library and a creative reputation is important for the strong to survive, let alone reign. For the time being, DPS is relying on the relationships Film Roman, Vanguard and some of its other partners to sell projects and get distribution deals.
Berger said there are no immediate plans to create a distribution/sales arm at DPS. "We have a creative side, a production side, a financing side. We've moved a lot in the direction of where we want to be. Once these products are released, I think distribution channels will start opening up. We took a major step today in full-end feature distribution. The products will sell themselves. We're going to blow people away," he told AWN.
Braun confirmed that the channels will open when they offer their commercial creative with efficient financing. "Go to a major distributor/studio and not need their capital to make a film -- there are lots of studios interested in that kind of partnership," he said.
IDT also has an impressive board of governors as well as $25 million from Liberty Media, which owns 5% of IDT.
"Between Liberty Media and all the partners that IDT does business with, we can get into the door wherever we want to. We're waiting for the right time," said Berger. For now, they plan to create the product, then bring it to the studios.
Yehuda Wurtzel, founder of DPS, said his company has come up with a third way to produce a computer-animated picture. It's not, what he calls, expensive in-house North American studio production or outsourcing it. It's based on an array of engineering solutions, proprietary software and production techniques. "It's an open architecture, agnostic system that allows lots of different platforms, different workstyles and lots of different cultural needs of production companies and how they like to work."
In this hybrid system, Wurtzel continued, the key creative elements are handled by a wholly owned hub, doing what a Pixar or Blue Sky does to create the look, feel, design of the production. "We then disassemble that production. We don't send out scenes, we send out digital objects. This is key to entire protocol," he explained. "The digital objects are tagged-tracked, a production managers dream. This allows for the right digital object go to right talent, the right skillset, even the right production treaty compliance, anywhere on the planet, so you're getting rationalized efficiency and tremendous scalability. You can horizontally integrate almost any number of studios in the middle stage," while keeping control of the production. With all elements, including comments tagged, everything is tracked.
"If you take control of the digital backlot," he said, "you can create lots of motion pictures at incredible speed and efficiency. Because everything is sent back to the hub for rendering, lighting, compositing, "You can't tell where it was done," he claims. No studio or person does a scene, just digital objects.
"This enables companies all over the world, which are too small to participate in TV series or feature production by themselves, and cannot maintain the marketing presence in America they need to get that work. By agglomerating those guys together into larger units, we create a win-win situation, where, indeed, people can pitch in from all over the world and do," said Wurtzel. "We're largest talent base in CG animation in the world. When we last tracked it, we were getting six applicants an hour from all over the planet."
DPS asks an applicant (go to www.digiprodsolutions.com to apply) to provide evidence of the skill sets and catalogs them. When a job ticket comes up, they look for the right match based upon the appropriate price, schedule availability and sometimes the ability to comply with treaties and tax rebates, for example, in Canada and the U.K. The affiliate is then tested before they are fed the work.
DPS, through its subsidiaries, DPS Films and DPS Film Roman, is in production on two theatrical 3D productions, including Gene Roddenberrys STARPOINT ACADEMY. The company is working on direct-to-video and broadcast releases for THE SIMPSONS, KING OF THE HILL, X-MEN, Jim Jinkins MONSTER MONSTER TRUCKS and the Cabbage Patch Kids property.