Launching a digital animation studio in Baton Rouge is far from unthinkable.
“It’s happening every day. There’s mom-and-pop shops sprouting up all over the place,” Marty Sixkiller, research and development supervisor at DreamWorks, said Friday during his keynote address at Louisiana Entrepreneurship Day.
“I would say, start small,” he added. “It’s very affordable right now to start an animation company. You can buy software very cheaply. There are tons of people doing it right out of their garage.”
In days past, anyone wanting to do animation work almost had to move to California and hopefully land a job at a major studio like DreamWorks, which has produced blockbuster movies like “Shrek” and “Madagascar.” Moving to California is what Sixkiller, who grew up in Slidell, eventually did after graduating from LSU in 1992.
However, thanks to today‘s technology and other changes, it’s easier for the entrepreneur-minded to go at it alone, Sixkiller said.
“It can be done. It’s all about the story and the quality. You don’t need a massive company with 2,000 people to do it,” he said. “You need someone with an idea and you need a place to do it and you need electricity.”
States like Louisiana are also making it easier by offering film and digital media projects lucrative incentives through tax credits. Big-name game-makers like Electronic Arts and Gameloft have located studios in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. And the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise in Lafayette is home to a Pixel Magic studio.
“If I were starting my own animation company, I would start off with about 20 people,” Sixkiller said. “I would find a couple of key industry people. And my whole thing is, there’s a ton of talent coming right out of school. Quite honestly, we’ve raised the bar in our industry so high, it’s hard for them to get in. It’s incredibly hard to get in. Right now, if I were applying to DreamWorks I don’t think I would get hired.”
And the message to the room of would-be entrepreneurs: “I think the biggest thing is to network,” Sixkiller said. “Don’t be afraid to ask a question.
“Get on LinkedIn,” he added, calling to mind the social networking site aimed at establishing business connections. “Come to events like this. Talk to people. Make connections. Find other people that have the same dream as you have.”
It takes about 400 people to put together a DreamWorks project, Sixkiller explained. And about 250 of those workers are animators working closely together in a collaborative context.
Working remotely from home or someplace is generally not possible because of intellectual property concerns.
“I don’t know who’s at your house while you’re working on this movie,” Sixkiller remarked. “You could have friends from your child’s play group and you’re showing intellectual property that doesn’t really belong to you to someone outside that could literally steal an idea.
“That’s the main concern that we have from a technology standpoint: we can’t control what happens on the other side of the fence,” he added.