Scott Ross Talks Digital Domain, Bankruptcy, and the Value of Visual Effects Artists

Scott Ross, who founded Digital Domain nearly two decades ago along with James Cameron and Stan Winston, reached out to me this afternoon in response to my article, “The Downfall of Digital Domain.” In a phone conversation earlier this evening, Scott and I discussed a number of recurring themes in the press coverage of DDMG’s collapse, and he offered his perspective on the company’s downward spiral. As the former CEO of Digital Domain, Scott is in a unique position to offer insight into the company’s collapse, and I welcomed the opportunity to speak with him on the matter.


As I talked with Scott, he wanted to impress upon me (and everyone reading the coverage of Digital Domain's bankruptcy) that we're all becoming too preoccupied with numbers, statistics, and celebrity status.


"We're forgetting that great men and women took jobs at a very prestigious company on the CEO's word, only to find out the company was in financial trouble,” Scott said. “Now we have amazing visual effects artists who picked up everything - their lives, families, and left their homes - from all over the country - only to be left without jobs and nowhere to go less than a year later. America forgets the humanity involved in situations like this...they focus more on the numbers, which is a shame."


Scott Ross also went on to say that this is sadly symptomatic of the lack of empathy in the business world. He summed up these sentiments with the following:


"This entire situation is a further indicator of decaying capitalism in America. Spending and hiring when you know your company's in trouble, taking money from the private and public sectors and saying 'I got mine!' - when all is said and done is NOT how you run a business when the livelihoods of families are at stake."


I asked Scott Ross what he sees and hopes for the future of Digital Domain, as we approach the auction date at the end of the week.


"We'll know for certain, after the auction takes place on Sept. 21st, exactly what the fate of Digital Domain is. Ultimately, I would like to see the legacy of Digital Domain live on. This was a group of visual effects artists that made some of the most amazing films of the past 20 years, and hopefully that legacy will continue with whomever buys Digital Domain later this month."


Scott Ross would like to see justice served – that those who are responsible for the fall of such a visual effects powerhouse be held accountable, and that people take into consideration the incredible visual effect artists who were left with nothing shortly after they were hired.


After getting off the phone with Scott Ross, I felt that I, too, had missed the bull's eye a bit. We tend to focus on the numbers and big names involved, while forgetting that the individual artists came together to create the effects for these films – not the bank analysts or people whose primary concern was to focus on the financial side of things.


I was also left with a few new questions that weren't covered by press releases or Wall Street reports.


There seems to be a lot of finger pointing going on in this situation. The people of West Palm Beach are wondering how to get back the land that was given to Digital Domain to start an animation institute. Just last week, John Textor warned that there might be around 350 layoffs from the Port St. Lucie animation college. Political pundits are pointing to John Textor as an example of capitalism gone bad – taking money from the public sector to fund private ventures.


So how do we make heads or tails out of what led to Digital Domain filing for Chapter 11? Was there mismanagement at some level? Was information withheld from the board, or the principals, or the employees? Do we need to start a fundraiser for Dan Marino? (The answer is “no” on that one, as his initial investment is still reportedly valued at $850K). Were the bank analysts off in their research when they were bringing Digital Domain from a private company to one with stock traded on Wall Street?


As it stands, we do not know all of the specifics, and we may never know, unless some sort of audit or investigation occurs and that information is made public. What I do know now is that we have to remember Digital Domain for the great artists who contributed to some of the most stunning effects ever witnessed on the big screen, and not let celebrity names or misleading numbers cloud that. I also know now – as Scott Ross said – that we must hope the legacy of Digital Domain is preserved, and that it will be restored after the sale date next week.


Only time will tell.


About Scott Ross:

Scott Ross was CEO of Digital Domain from 1993-2006, during which time the company’s visual effects artists garnered eight Academy Award nominations. In 1997, Digital Domain received an Oscar for its work on Titanic followed by two more (What Dreams May Come and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Scott Ross left Digital Domain after it was purchased by Wyndcrest Holdings LLC, whose principals (at the time) included Michael Bay, John Textor, Dan Marino, former Microsoft executive Carl Stork, and Jonathan Teaford.


Follow Scott on Twitter @DrScottRoss for his latest take on the DDMG developments, or visit his blog VFX Business.

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Tags: VFX and Animation, digital domain bankruptcy, digital domain closure, scott ross digital domain, scott ross digital domain bankruptcy, scott ross visual effects industry

Comment by Walter Hunt on September 24, 2012 at 12:39pm

Thanks for the regular coverage of the DD situation. I signed up because of it.

Comment by Jonathan Farr on September 24, 2012 at 1:24pm

Thanks! Kristy Barkan, Kim, and the VFXG staff are seeking out new information regarding the DD situation (and recent purchase) as it breaks, so you aren't getting second and third-hand stories.

There's much more to come!

Comment by Michael Shandrick on September 25, 2012 at 2:10pm

Jonathan, I appreciated your fine piece about Scott Ross' comments.  You've obviously caught on to this well ahead of the mainstream media. 

This "bankruptcy" was a scripted scandal. It has all the fingerprints of a private equity scam even down to the "accelerated sale" for a quick $30M, while the unfortunate vfx employees are left high and dry.

I wouldn't hold my breath for "justice" certainly not in today's world.  Humanity? Not much chance of that either.

I invite you to read my posts on the subject:

Comment by Sara Cartwright on October 12, 2012 at 5:32pm

Good read, Jonathan. Thanks for that.


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