Sony Pictures Imageworks, the Culver City-based visual effects and animation shop behind “Spider-Man 3” and upcoming toon “Surf’s Up,” is unveiling its global expansion strategy with the announcement of a new major facility in Albuquerque, N.M.
“The goal in New Mexico is to build a mirror facility of Culver City,” SPI prexy Tim Sarnoff told Daily Variety.
The new facility, expected to be up and running in about a year, will be about 100,000 square feet. It will employ about 100 to start and can grow to a staff of 300.
The Albuquerque facility will be the fifth Imageworks outpost. In February, SPI acquired a controlling interest in FrameFlow, a vfx and animation company in Chennai, India, and changed its name to Imageworks India.
Company has also quietly opened two small satellite offices, one in Carpinteria, Calif., and another at Hamilton’s Landing in the San Francisco suburb of Novato, each employing about six artists.
Sarnoff said SPI will open at least two more such small satellite offices. The locations for those are yet to be determined; they will be chosen according to production requirements and could be anywhere in the world.
He said the satellites are able to switch quickly between projects and run at a low overhead. “They actually operate much like boutique shops,” he added.
Sarnoff said SPI is pursuing a three-pronged expansion strategy.
“We wanted to be where the talent is, we wanted to be close to our clients, and we wanted to be where there are favorable economic and lifestyle opportunities,” he explained.
Sarnoff said that the facilities in Chennai and Albuquerque, which will have their own machine rooms, will help Imageworks manage risk. He pointed to the increasing pressure facing vfx facilities as delivery dates approach.
“The risk of a power outage in one place is a large risk at the end of a show. A hurricane or an earthquake in the last week of the show would be enough to not allow you to deliver,” he said.
The small satellite offices will have the flexibility to ramp up to around 15 people on short notice, but not much above that without a major investment in hardware.
Sarnoff said flatly that SPI would not be opening its Albuquerque branch without New Mexico’s 25% tax rebate for film and TV production.
Some of the Albuquerque staff will move from Culver City, and some will be local hires. SPI aims to bolster the local talent base through support for the U. of New Mexico’s film school. UNM will become a member of the Sony’s Ipax program, intended to help schools develop talent for digital filmmaking.
Sarnoff also denied rumors that Imageworks would move out of Los Angeles entirely.
“Unless the entire studio business moves out of Hollywood, it doesn’t make sense for us to move our base of operations.”
Imageworks’ Culver City staff fluctuates from 800 to 1,200.
After the new facilities are open, Culver City will retain 700-1,000 employees, with 150 in India, 100 or more in New Mexico and small numbers at the satellites.
Asked who will be the senior person at the New Mexico plant, Sarnoff said simply, “Me,” though he does not intend to move.