The Download: City officials recruit digital animation studio to the District


These are concept drawings for the 3D animated film, “Kong,” which Pigmental Studios is providing creative direction and animated modeling for. The film is expected to premiere in 2016. Founded earlier this year, Pigmental Studios has decided to locate to D.C.

A studio that produces animated films plans to relocate to the District after economic development officials used grants and tax incentives to court the company away from the show-biz clutches of Hollywood.

Pigmental Studios was co-founded in February by Marina Martins and Adam Miller after the pair inked deals to provide creative direction and animation modeling on two multimillion-dollar films.

One of those projects, “Kong,” will offer a sci-fi take on the classic Chinese novel “Journey to the West” when it premieres in 2016. A trailer for the 3-D animated film, which is being developed with Aquamen Entertainment for a Chinese cultural group, made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this month.

As business begins to ramp up, the company wants to lay fresh roots. But the District wasn’t its first or only suitor.

“We were originally going to start this company in Los Angeles, but as we looked at managing resources, I was seduced by New Mexico,” Martins said. “They were offering us all sorts of incentives to come out there. But when I talked to Adam about it ...

Miller interjected, “I think I said, ‘No.’” Full stop.

“Animation is very much based in LA. Convincing a group of artists that are very much sought after to move to Sante Fe, New Mexico, was virtually impossible,” Miller said. “There’s no amount of money I can give them that they would move out there.”

But they’ll move to D.C.?

“D.C. is an international community and we are expanding into an international market with our first picture for China,” Miller said. “We’re not a Hollywood company. We’re an international company. So to be in a place that helps foster that growth and encourage it is incredible.”

Pigmental is now eying locations in Georgetown and the Southwest Waterfront. The company has plans to open with an initial staff of 24, a number that could grow to 60 in coming years. Much of the technical and artistic work on its projects is done by partner companies.

The District is “the kind of place that creators want to create in, so it really wasn’t a difficult sell. It was a matter of could we put a business deal together that would allow them to make that move,” said Pierre Bagley, who became director of the District’s Office of Motion Picture and Television Development four months ago.

That package includes a $250,000 grant to build out and furnish Pigmental’s office in the District, as well as access to the city’s tech incentives program, which includes reduced tax rates, wage reimbursement for new hires and relocation assistance for non-residents.

Jenifer Huestis Boss, director of business development and strategy for the District’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, said those benefits will hinge on whether Pigmental makes good on plans to grow its staff, half of which will be made up of District residents, she said.

“We quickly realized the only way we could be successful was we had to meet business at the rate at which they move,” Boss said. Pigmental “came and needed to make a decision immediately, and we were able to put something together, and now they’re looking for spaces.”

Washington is better know as fodder for television shows and moves — “Scandal,” “Veep,” “House of Cards,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Lincoln,” to name a few — than the place where they actually get made.

Still, the region boasts a burgeoning creative class of artists and technologies.

Neighboring Maryland, for example, is home to a number of video game studios, including ZeniMax Media and its publishing arm Bethesda Softworks. The region also contains the headquarters of Discovery Communications, National Geographic and the Travel Channel.

Bagley said the District itself has a small but growing contingent of filmmakers, especially those who work in nonfiction. A filmmaker himself, Bagley sees potential for that community to continue to grow.

“The thing about D.C., if you’re here and you’re making films, it’s because you really love film,” Bagley said. “You don’t really love fame. You may not be chasing the money. If you’re here in D.C. it’s because you’re really passionate about the work .”

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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