Louisiana's rich culture in creativity, film, music and television has been a natural fit for the development of an emerging digital media and technology industry. The state first began cultivating video game development in 2005 when it passed the digital media tax credit program, attracting major game developer EA Games to the state.
In 2009, Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Louisiana Economic Development (LED) office decided to shift its focus to the whole space of digital media, expanding the program's definition of "digital interactive media" and making the program more effective for all digital companies. The program, which is now available to any type of software development for commercial sale, including national Security and IT applications, offers a bottom-line savings in the form of a 25 percent tax credit for expenditures and a 35 percent tax credit for Louisiana labor.
The LED also has implemented strong incentives for technology and film growth through its Technology Commercialization Tax Credit and the Louisiana Motion Picture Investor Tax Credit, as well as best in nation workforce and job training incentives through its FastStart and Quality Jobs Programs.
These incentives have helped to create thousands of new jobs in the state and catapult the region to the forefront of a rapidly growing digital media industry. Between 2001 and 2007, employment at Louisiana digital media firms-which include Smartphone App and video game designers, software developers and more-grew 9 percent, according to a 2009 report by the firm Economics Research Associates.
"Digital media and software development is at the top of our targeted growth industries," said Stephen Moret, Secretary of LED. "We've been working hard to cultivate it, it's a great fit for Louisiana and we are experiencing a lot of success right now.
Louisiana's digital media industry is one of the fastest growing in the nation, growing at a rate of more than 100 percent, according to Moret. The state has almost 19,000 skilled software developers and more than 100,000 professionals with a skill set conducive to digital media or software development. In addition, its information sector, including software publishing and telecommunications, has experienced the second fastest growth rate in the country since June 2009.
"What's really exciting is that it's happening all over the state," said Moret." Essentially we've got significant digital media and software development and telecommunications activity in roughly five cities: Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Shreveport, Monroe and Lafayette."
BATON ROUGE-CREATIVE CAPITAL OF THE SOUTH
Known as the "Creative Capital of the South," Baton Rouge has attracted development studios such as Electronic Arts, Firebrand Games, Crawfish Games, Nerjyzed Entertainment, BitRaider MMO. Now, the city will soon be home to a new international Academy Award-winning visual effects studio, Pixomondo.
In February 2012, Pixomondo announced it is investing $1.2 million to open shop in Baton Rouge's Celtic Media Centre, a state-of-the art movie studio.
Pixomondo won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects (VFX) at the 84th Academy Awards for Martin Scorsese's 3D epic-adventure, Hugo. The film, which is based on Brian Selznick's novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is about a boy who lives alone in a Paris railway station and the enigmatic owner of a toy shop there. The company completed more than 800 shots as the primary visual effects vendor on the film.
Opening in May, the Pixomondo Baton Rouge studio will be the German company's 12th international location. Annual salaries will average more than $65,000, plus benefits, and Pixomondo will hire 50 people in its first year, expanding to 75 by the end of its second year. The project will result in the creation of 49 Indirect jobs, the LED estimates, for a total of more than 120 jobs.
"Pixomondo already operates a dozen VFX studios worldwide and they could have chosen anywhere to create a new studio," Gov. Jindal said in a press release. "Their decision speaks volumes about how far Louisiana has come when it comes to improving our business climate and providing competitive incentives."
Founded by CEO Thilo Kuther in 2001, Pixomondo offers 24/7 visual effects production and supervision, CG character creation, 3-D animation and pre-visualization for the feature film, television and commercial industries. The company has created visual effects for more than 30 feature films, including Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Red Tails, Sucker Punch, Super 8, Fast Five, Percy Jackson, The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, 2012 and Hugo. The company is currently in production on VFX for Snow White and the Huntsman, The Amazing Spiderman and TV series that include Game of Thrones, Terra Nova, Hawaii Five-O and Grimm.
The state began working with Pixomondo six months ago to gauge the company's interest in establishing a visual effects studio that could partner with major movie and TV productions in Baton Rouge and Louisiana.The company was drawn to Louisiana due to its rapidly growing film industry, as well as generous LED incentives including digital media and film production tax credits, FastStart and the Quality Jobs Program.
"Opening an office in Baton Rouge fits perfectly with our overall company vision," said CEO Kuther. "Louisiana offers a very generous production tax credit that we can Pass on to our clients to bolster our project load as well as growing teams in Los Angeles, London and Germany- not to mention China and Canada. Baton Rouge is a beautiful city with a wealth of resources. We've already connected with the Louisiana State University computer science department to help set up remote render farms and virtualization with our other studios."
DIGITAL MARCHES INTO NOLA
New Orleans is undergoing an economic renaissance-and digital media is playing an integral role.
Companies drawn to New Orleans include Firebrand Games, a critically acclaimed video game development company currently working on titles for the Nintendo DS and Wii, and Fortune 500 company CenturyLink, the third-largest telecommunications company in the U.S.
At the same time, the city has attracted GE Capital's new technology office, adding hundreds of jobs to the local workforce. After examining hundreds of locations for its new project, the company announced it is choosing New Orleans.
"When selecting a location for a center of this importance, we considered many attractive options across the country," said Brackett Denniston, GE Senior Vice President and general counsel. "Louisiana rose to the top of our list because of the advantages it offers in terms of talent, infrastructure, location and environment. Gov. Jindal and the Louisiana delegation presented a compelling case for locating in Louisiana."
Denniston said cooperation between the state and the company helped make the project a reality.
"We are thrilled to be part of what is rightly called the renaissance of New Orleans" said Denniston. "This is one of America's signature cities, and we wanted to be a part of that."
The state began cultivating IT related economic development opportunities with GE in late 2010, and those efforts intensified in collaboration with local partners Greater New Orleans (GNO) Inc., the New Orleans Business Alliance and the New Orleans Mayor's Office in 2011 as GE Capital was conducting a nationwide search for its new IT Center of Excellence. The center, which is expected to open by midyear, will focus on developing software, processes and technology for the GE Capital financial services arm of the company.
New Orleans also attracted Paris-based Gameloft, one of the world's largest publishers of digital and social games, to establish a major new game development studio in New Orleans, creating 146 new high-paying jobs over the next decade.
Gameloft credits the LED's FastStart as one of the major reasons it decided to locate in New Orleans.
"Over the last 10 years, we've sold over 200 million titles, said David Hague, Studio Manager of Gameloft, on LED's website. "We've calculated that we sell three games every second. What FastStart does is make sure we have the people that will help us create a great game. FastStart comes in and says I understand how you recruit and the type of person that you are looking for, your corporate culture, and tailors that perfectly."
According to Hague, New Orleans emerged as the front-runner among many other sites not only because of the state's strong digital media and workforce incentives, but also because it offers a quality of life and lower cost of living and doing business, which is important in a globally competitive market.
"Throughout the search process, we went through a lot of the gaming technology hubs of the U.S.," said Hague on the LED's website. "Last on our list was New Orleans. After being here for just under 24 hours I quickly realized that this was a city where we would be able to pull a workforce to have a great cost of living and a very fun lifestyle when people aren't at work."
"Gameloft was worried that they couldn't attract the same number of applicants to their studios compared to New York and California," said Moret. "Yes, we are smaller, but what we lack in size we make up for in exceptional targeted resources for recruitment and training. It turned out that they had the same quality and number of applicants for their New Orleans studio as they did in NYC- and NYC is a vastly bigger pool."
According to Hague, the state's customized solutions got the company running in half the time.
"We're really starting to create a hub that can really grow to become one of the meccas that you see in some of the other large cities in the U. S.," said Hague. "These jobs are here and they're here to stay."
An Oscar for Shreveport
Moonbot, an animation and visual effects studio, has helped put its hometown of Shreveport, LA on the global digital media map. At the 84th Academy Awards Moonbot won an Oscar for Best Animated Short for its digital interactive storybook for children, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.
Moonbot was founded in Shreveport in 2009 by William Joyce, a Shreveport-native who has worked for Disney/Pixar; Brandon Oldenburg of Reel; FX Studios, an award-winning design, visual effects, animation and entertainment studio; and Lampton Enoch of Gwave Productions, a company which produced a slate of television movies for the Disney Channel and ABC Family.
In 2009, after bouncing back and forth between two coasts for work, Joyce decided he'd spent enough time on the road and was determined to find a way to base his work in his native Shreveport. It was then that he started Moonbot with Enoch and Oldenburg and Mr. Morris Lessmore was born.
"The idea for the story started with longtime children's books publisher William Morris, Joyce's mentor at HarperCollins," said Enoch." Joyce wrote this little story about a guy who gives his life to books on a flight en route to visit Morris. He read it to him when he went to see him and then Morris died just a few days after that. That story became the film, and it was also inspired in equal measures by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books."
The company credits the state's FastStart workforce training program and digital media incentives for helping get their story off of the shelves and onto the screen. "Much of what has allowed Moonbot to flourish creatively can be attributed to the company's strong local support, including LED's FastStart program," said Oldenburg. "We can't emphasize enough how much the support of LED and the Shreveport community has helped to get Moonbot where it is in such a short time. With the support of State incentives and workforce training programs, we've been able to build a strong team of talented artists and storytellers and have far exceeded our expectations for what we could accomplish in our first months of business."
The company was in the middle of production on Mr. Lessmore when Apple announced the new iPad. Moonbot used FastStart to help quickly train their programmers to learn the new technology in order to turn the children's tale into an iPad App. Within weeks after they released the App, Mr. Lessmore soared to the top tier of Apple's most popular apps for iPad.
"The app for 'Morris Lessmore' came about almost by accident, well into production on the short film and book, when the iPad was introduced, and filled a previously unarticulated void," said Oldenburg. "It wasn't a book and it wasn't a movie-it was something in between. We had been wanting that, but not knowing what that was.The filmmakers found it to be a fitting way to stretch the multimedia potential of Morris Lessmore."
Moonbot is currently housed in the BioSpace 1 building in Shreveport's InterTech Science Park, home to several of the area's newest high-tech companies. The studio's latest project is "The Numberlys" featuring a black and white aesthetic inspired by Fritz Lang's silent film, "Metropolis." The interactive storybook app offers a unique cinematic experience and innovative game play to engage users in an imaginative, interactive story about the origin of the alphabet.
"We envision the future of storytelling is a whole new class of interactive content that transcends traditional boundaries between traditional film and written text," said Enoch.
"Our vision is to transform the art of story-telling into a multimedia experience. Working on so many versions of the same story at once may sound a little nuts, but the multi-platform approach has been the key to becoming a viable company."
When asked what they would tell other digital media companies about Louisiana, Oldenburg and Enoch both echoed the same sentiment: "Come on down!"
"We feel like the more the merrier," said Oldenburg. "We have already collaborated with several local companies which has led to some amazing results. You won't find a more supportive state and the Louisiana Economic Development department is phenomenally proactive."
Digital artist (bottom right) at the Moonbot Studios in Shreveport, LA puts the finishing touches on a frame of the shop's Oscar-winning animated short.
Business Facilities: Digital Media Takes the Prize