Twofour54, DD plan vfx studio and school in Abu Dhabi

Digital Domain Media Group has launched ambitious plans to establish an animation-vfx studio and media school in Abu Dhabi in partnership with Twofour54, the Abu Dhabi government-backed media and entertainment zone.

The collaboration is designed to support Abu Dhabi’s stated goal to become the region’s “center of excellence for media content creation.”

DDMG, parent company of visual effects studio Digital Domain, made the announcement with twofour54 Monday in Cannes — less than a month after it announced a partnership with Beijing’s Galloping Horse Film Co. to set up a vfx studio in China, aimed specifically at the Chinese market.

Also in Cannes, Twofour54 and the Abu Dhabi Film Commission unveiled a production rebate program, trumpeted as the region’s first incentive scheme, for up to 30% of spending in the emirate on features, TV, documentary, advertising and musicvideo production. The incentive will be available starting Sept. 1.

“There is tremendous opportunity to produce original entertainment content for Middle Eastern audiences worldwide, and to bring Hollywood work and our own original productions here as well,” said DDMG topper John Textor in a statement. “Pairing the studio and school enables us to help the emirate to build a sustainable, creative industries base. Abu Dhabi was the natural location for us given its strategic location, modern infrastructure and supportive government.”

DDMG will start production of visual effects and animation in the studios at Twofour54 at the beginning of next year and plans to recruit and hire staff immediately. Plans are for the studio to employ upward of 500 people as DDMG develops a 150,000-sq.ft. entertainment production complex, expected to be operational by the end of 2015.

The studio will create animated features, visual and 3D effects, produce original Middle Eastern-branded entertainment and contribute to international productions. It will be a part of Digital Domain’s vfx and animation pipeline, connected to its studios in Los Angeles, Vancouver, San Francisco, London, Florida and Mumbai.

DDMG said the school — dubbed Digital Domain Institute/Abu Dhabi and modeled after the Digital Domain Institute in West Palm Beach, Fla. — will train students in digital media production for entertainment, simulation and related applications. Classes are scheduled to begin early in 2014.

Textor noted that the timing of the venture is propitious, given the shifts in the region.

“We’re looking forward to grooming up-and-coming Arab filmmakers at a time of such great awakening in this part of the world,” he said.

Wayne Borg, deputy CEO and chief operating officer of Twofour54, characterized the venture as historic.

“The establishment of DDMG in Abu Dhabi is a significant event in the evolution of the media industry in the Middle East. It will provide incredible opportunities for young Arabs to develop skills and careers in an area of the media industry that has simply never existed before in the region.”

The Twofour54 hub already houses more than 160 local, regional and international media companies including CNN, BBC, Ubisoft, Fox Intl. Channels, Cartoon Network, Financial Times and Charisma.

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