Digital Domain files for IPO

Parent firm seeks to raise $115 million

The parent company of visual effects studio Digital Domain is aiming to raise $115 million in a stock offering.

Digital Domain Media Group, which comprises several ventures including the Digital Domain vfx studio, filed for an IPO on Monday.

Company’s Monday S-1 filing with the Security & Exchange Commission lays out an ambitious plan for DDMG that includes reducing the importance of the service vfx biz in favor of co-productions where DD would own some profit participation in movies, especially ones on which it does vfx work; the creation of an animation studio, Tradition Studios, in Florida, to make family-friendly comedies; building the 3D content business, which DD entered when it acquired In-Three in 2010; and building up affiliated digital production house Mothership in commercials.

Plans also call for the establishment of a for-profit education business, Digital Domain Institute, which will be affiliated with Florida State U. FSU would award four-year degrees to students who complete the DDI curriculum.

Filing said DDMG has contracted for $135 million in government stimulus financing, including land grants and $20 million in tax incentives, much of it from the state of Florida and local governments in Florida.

Digital Domain, the visual effects studio headquartered in Venice, Calif., recently took over Imagemovers Digital’s Playa del Rey motion-capture facility. DD also acquired much of the computers and other hardware from Imagemovers Digital’s now-shuttered HQ in Novato, Calif., and will use the hardware for its Florida animation facility, skedded to open later this year.

Filing says DD paid $8.5 million for “property and equipment,” suggesting it acquired the gear at a bargain price.

Digital Domain was formed in 1993 by James Cameron, Stan Winston and Scott Ross. Private investment firm Wyndcrest Holdings acquired the vfx studio in 2006, and Michael Bay took a stake in the company as well. DDMG is the new moniker for the former Wyndcrest DD Florida.

Wyndcrest tried to take DD public in late 2007. The IPO was withdrawn but the SEC filings revealed that DD had not made money in over a decade. This week’s filing also concedes the company has a history of losses but attributes the 2010 loss to startup costs associated with the Florida expansion. It shows $43 million in cash holdings and operating income of $17.1 million from the vfx business.

Besides its Venice HQ and Playa del Rey facility, DD has branches in San Francisco, Vancouver and Port St. Lucie, Fla. Company’s recent credits include “Tron: Legacy,” “X-Men: First Class” and “Real Steel.”