Sony state stipend

Gov't grant funds digital training program

The acute shortage of skilled digital artists at a time of enormous entertainment industry demand has spurred a $225,000 grant to Sony Pictures Imageworks by the California State Employment Training Panel. The grant helps fuel the company’s newly established inhouse digital training program over the next two years.

In announcing the grant, Gov. Pete Wilson said, “We want to ensure that California stays ahead of the competition in addressing the unique work force and training needs of the entertainment industry as it moves toward the digital environment of the 21st century. This training grant is a model for the public/private partnerships needed to keep California the entertainment capital of the world in the digital future.”

Sony Pictures Imageworks is the 5-year-old visual-effects and computer animation division of Sony Pictures Entertainment

The ETP is a business and labor-supported state agency that reimburses companies doing business in California for the costs of providing high-skilled, high-wage training to their employees. The ETP targets firms threatened by out-of-state and international competition. While the funding has long been available, Sony is the first studio or entertainment company to apply for and receive an ETP grant.

Rosalie Zalis, the governor’s senior policy adviser for the entertainment industry, said, “There hasn’t been knowledge in the entertainment industry about these state funds that are available.” Zalis said she has contacted other studios, as well as visual-effects houses Digital Domain, Industrial Light & Magic and Pixar, with information concerning the ETP grant program.

Why Sony Pictures Entertainment, a division of Tokyo-based multibillion-dollar consumer electronics giant Sony, should need state funding was made clear to Daily Variety by SPE exec Ken Williams.

“Millions have gone out from the state to more traditional businesses,” he said. “We are opening the door for the state’s preeminent industry to getting its fair share.”

He said SPI’s training program would span training in “everything from 2-D composting to 3-D animation.”

Williams pointed out that the industry is suffering the effects of state cutbacks that have resulted in the elimination of arts programs from the public school curriculum. He said a state-sponsored boost for training programs can benefit the state’s tax base by keeping state residents employed in the digital arena.

“A meaningful percentage of our current workforce is non-U.S. citizens,” Williams said. “We recruit in Europe, Asia, France. What we’ve been saying to people involved in education and government is that this is the leading industry in the state, taking over from the defense-based industries. But we’re at risk of stalling out. We need help.”

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