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Sony Dips Toe in Bay Area talent pool

Sony Imageworks is among the latest Hollywood studios to mine the Bay Area for digital arts talent.

The Culver City division of Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment opened an outpost in Novato a few weeks ago. Artists there are already working on visual effects for an upcoming Will Smith sci-fi movie, "I Am Legend."

The idea is to attract experienced artists who live in the Bay Area or want to.

"There's only so many people you can sucker into, er, I mean talk into moving to L.A.," joked Stan Szymanski, Imageworks' senior vice president of digital production, adding that he will bring on artists, animators and supervisor-level technicians from companies such as Lucasfilm, DreamWorks Animation, Tippett Studio and Electronic Arts.

The new group, in a hangar at the former Hamilton Army Air Field, is composed of five artists and will likely grow to more than a dozen.

It could get much larger. Sony signed a three-year lease there, in part, because it would allow for rapid expansion if film projects demand it.

"If we needed to staff up quickly in our Northern California office, (Hamilton Field) would afford us the opportunity in six to eight weeks to build out walls" and set up space for more employees, Szymanski said.

Disney may soon join Sony in the North Bay. The company is hunting for space in Marin County to open its newest movie unit, tentatively called ImageMovers Digital. Led by Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis, the new 3-D computer animation company, promises to bring as many as several hundred digital filmmaking jobs to the region.

T.J. Summers, a senior partner at Los Angeles-based Digital Artist Management recruiting firm, which itself just opened a satellite office in Walnut Creek this month, said, "Games and visual effects companies will continue to be attracted to the Bay Area because the talent who support these industries do not want to leave the region. Operating costs may be higher than in other locations throughout the country. However, the Bay Area is home to such a vast talent network that the investment is justified."

The Bay Area business community at large welcomes them, said Cynthia Murray, president and CEO of the North Bay Leadership Council, a group of top employers. "Both Disney and Sony are perfect additions to the business mix in the North Bay. With the highly skilled workforce here, both companies offer jobs that allow people to work and live in the community."

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