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Sony gets toehold in North Bay

NOVATO – Sony's Imageworks is putting a development team in the North Bay as an experiment in "bringing the company to the talent," according to a Culver City executive.

Imageworks is a division of Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment, which is a division of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The initially small five-person location at Hamilton Field will serve as a Northern California base for artists and technicians who already live here or want to, said Stan Szymanski, Imageworks senior vice president of digital production.

Sony Imageworks creates the visual effects, motion capture, computer graphics animation and 3-D stereoscopic effects for Sony films like Superman Returns, Monster House and Open Season.

Initially the Novato team will be working for the visual effects pipeline, doing look development and writing shading code.

"But we expect to grow into a mix of artists and animators and supervisor-level technicians," said Mr. Szymanski. "Some of them will be former Industrial Light and Magic people, some will come from Pixar, some will already be Imageworks employees.

"I've been recruiting talented software technicians and artists for awhile, and what we've found is that certain areas of high-end art technology attract the type of people who want to live in the Bay Area. Why miss out on a talented individual who, for various reasons, doesn't want to relocate to Culver City?"

He's found pockets of talent in far flung locations such as Wellington, New Zealand; Sydney, Australia; and Toronto, Canada, but Northern California will be the first region where Imageworks tries out a satellite office.

"We're in talks with people here at headquarters who once lived there or want to live there. Or we could find a talented artist working in London who would join Imageworks if he or she could live in Northern California," he said.

Imageworks seeks out senior-level artists who have worked on multiple projects and whose work has been proven in production settings. But the company also welcomes recent graduates, another reason to add a footprint in the Bay Area, where colleges and universities offer high-level technical production courses and degrees.

The first Novato team has been undergoing a two-week training in Culver City, and several of its members should be starting work at the new location today.

Mr. Szymanski could not specify the particular project they'll be engaged in because Imageworks isn't ready to announce it, but upcoming productions include Ghostrider, Surf's Up and Spiderman 3.

The company has taken a three-year lease on the Hamilton Landing address.

"I think it's exciting that Sony Pictures is coming here," said Cynthia Murray, president and CEO of the North Bay Leadership Council, a group of leading employers.

"Special effects companies fit the profile of the industries we want to encourage. They're knowledge-based, clean and complementary to the other types of business we have here."

Other special effects companies in the area include Motion Analysis in Santa Rosa, Kerner Optical in San Rafael, Matte World in Novato and RotoFactory in Santa Rosa, the last three founded by former Industrial Light and Magic employees.

Sonic Solutions in San Rafael is a long-established ILM spin off in the DVD editing space. Autodesk in San Rafael is also moving into the production software design space.

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