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Posted: 6:12 a.m. Friday, Sept. 28, 2012

New animation studio opens in Atlanta

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By Greg Bluestein

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Here’s a colorful job opportunity in Georgia: An animation company is expecting to employ about 100 people at its new studio by the end of the year.

Bento Box said Thursday that it was working with city and state officials to train dozens of artists and designers to staff the northwest Atlanta studio. The California-based company said it hopes to have 200 employees at the studio within three years.

“We really see Atlanta as a great place to engage the talent in Georgia,” said Scott Greenberg, the company’s co-founder. “We’ll be a part of the community, and we intend to do a lot more work down there.”

The development is a spillover effect of the growth of Georgia’s production industry. As spending on TV and film production in the state has more than quadrupled over the past four years, animation studios are being drawn to Atlanta for its proximity to behemoths such as Turner Broadcasting and access to a trained workforce.

“Atlanta is becoming a hub for this type of work,” said Asante Bradford, a project manager with the state Economic Development Department who helped land the expansion. He said a range of similar deals are on the drawing board.

“It’s exciting. After four or five years of advertising, they’re calling me now,” Bradford said of animation studios and other potential suitors.

Bento Box credited the state’s rich talent pool — legions of students trained at local art schools — as well as a tax break of up to 30 percent of a production’s budget for film and TV companies that spend at least $500,000 on a project.

Exact industry numbers are hard to come by, but analysts and industry officials say there are at least 700 animators who work in Georgia employed in jobs that typically pay about $60,000.

Floyd County Productions, the creator of FX’s “Archer” series, has about 100 employees based in offices near the Virginia-Highland neighborhood. And Stargate Studios, a special effects company, recently expanded to metro Atlanta for work on AMC’s popular zombie drama “The Walking Dead.”

And, of course, there’s Cartoon Network, Turner Broadcasting’s 24-hour animation station, which is celebrating its 20th birthday Monday. From rather humble beginnings, the network now reaches an audience of more than 360 million homes worldwide.

Bento Box, which has spent the past three months training its first few dozen employees, is already set to do animation work for two TV series. One is a show called “The Awesomes,” an original series from “Saturday Night Live” head writer Seth Meyers for the Hulu online network. Another, called “Out There,” will be featured on the IFC channel.

Greenberg said the work for these two programs would have otherwise been bid out to Korea, China or another international locale. But he was convinced Atlanta is a better alternative, thanks in part to its vibrant arts community.

“Instead of putting work overseas, we’re keeping it here,” he said. “We had to wait for the right time for us, the right project. And this is it.”

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