'Happy Feet' sequel keeps Oz shops hopping

SYDNEY — Sydney has emerged as Australia’s digital animation hub with the growth of the revered digital effects house Animal Logic and the launch of George Miller’s new production facility Dr. D, a joint venture with post pro Omnilab.

Animal Logic is under way on Zack Snyder’s “Guardians of Ga’Hoole” for Warners, an adventure feature that will mark the facility’s debut as a fledgling studio.

Across town at Dr. D, Miller is overseeing production of another Warner toon, “Happy Feet 2.”

Though Animal Logic produced “Happy Feet” for the director, Miller’s decision to launch Dr. D for the sequel reveals the former medical doctor’s ambition to create a studio facility akin to Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop in Wellington, New Zealand.

Most Oz post houses have permanent recruitment staffs who scour the international labor market for digital effects artists, while the bigger digital production companies work with local colleges to train and recruit graduates for competitive salaries.

“The best artists earn more than I do,” confides the head of one major shingle. However, artists make flat fees without per diems and are expected to cover their own travel costs and risk currency fluctuations when working internationally.

Foreign workers benefited mid-2008 when the Australian dollar hit 98¢ to the U.S. dollar, but the 30% drop-off seen since then makes Oz a less attractive destination without increased pay rates. On the flip side, the lower the Aussie dollar falls, the busier Aussie companies become.

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