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SMALL BUSINESS PROFILE – Very Visual Brain Zoo Studios expands rapidly as more in the industry get the word of its ability to design high quality animation and effects for video games and films By SLAV KANDYBA Staff Reporter Many boxes are still unpacked and there is no receptionist to greet visitors at the entrance. On the second floor, however, employees of Brain Zoo Studios are at work behind their computer monitors, sketching and designing animated figures that will appear in upcoming video games. The Van Nuys-based animation and visual effects studio has recently relocated to the two-story building with views of the Van Nuys Airport’s control tower and sound effects courtesy of Learjet take-offs. The new facility is going to allow the company, which will celebrate its tenth year in business in 2005, to double both its space and the number of employees. Brain Zoo “outgrew” its previous location, on the other side of the airport, said Mohammed Davoudian, the co-founder and visual effects supervisor at Brain Zoo. The company now employs 22 people, and will likely grow to 40 by the end of the year. The typical employee appears to be in the mid-20s, wears shorts and flip-flops and is an animation wizard. Most of the employees sit behind computers in a room with window shades pulled down. It’s literally a cool place to be. Brain Zoo is the brain child of the Davoudian brothers, Mohammed and Ali. Ali attended the University of Southern California’s School of Film and Mohammed went to Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design, where he studied industrial design, or designing parts for consumer products. Before there was Brain Zoo, there was Dream Theater, which was founded by the Davoudians through their own money and capital. At its peak, Dream Theater employed 65 people. Brain Zoo was spun off from Dream Theater, which included an animation and an Internet firm. The Internet company was sold, and Brain Zoo spun off as a freestanding company in 2000, essentially at about the time the dot-com bubble burst and the nation’s economy was in a downturn. Major clients What a difference four years can make, though. Brain Zoo has established itself as a go-to partner for some of the major video game publishers, including Electronic Arts, Midway Games Inc. and Sammy Studios. And most work was earned through a proven old-fashioned technique of word-of-mouth. There wasn’t any advertising until last year, when Davoudian said he began a direct marketing campaign and sent out demo reels. “We made one group of guys happy and they’ve passed the word,” Davoudian said. At least one repeat customer agreed: “They’re a joy to work with and we hope to use them more in the future,” said Emmanuel Valdez, vice president creative director and a co-founder of Carlsbad-based Sammy Studios. Valdez also happens to be one of Mohammed Davoudian’s best friends from college. “When he formed Brain Zoo we actually worked together on a couple of projects,” Valdez said. Valdez was then with Midway Games, a video game publisher based in Chicago. Among the projects were opening cinematics, or movie-like scenes, for Ready 2 Rumble Boxing. Brain Zoo provided graphics and animation, and also supervised the blue screen shoot of ring announcer Michael Buffer and ring side girls, which were incorporated into the finished film. In fact, it is Brain Zoo’s ability to work in film as well as animation that has given the company an edge and spurred its growth. “We are able to work in multiple industries simultaneously,” Davoudian said. “We’re the bridge that connects the two industries together.” On the horizon for the company are animated full-length feature films. Davoudian said the company will soon have the ability to make that type of film on a $15 million budget, substantially less than what Hollywood studios would require. Low overhead Most projects Brain Zoo works on now take about six to eight weeks to complete and require five or six employees. The most complex project took 15 people about one year to complete, Davoudian said. How would Brain Zoo do that? “We don’t keep high overhead,” Davoudian said. Brain Zoo’s booming business is also attributable to several trends taking place in the video game industry. One, major game publishers such as Midway, Activision Inc. and Electronic Arts, are beginning to make more games as they become more proficient at understanding the capability of video game platforms Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s Playstation 2. The other is the new platforms enable better graphics, which means games are getting more realistic to the point of resembling movies. And that’s where Brain Zoo makes its living. “(Publishers’) budgets have gotten bigger because consoles can handle more information, and they’re doing a lot more,” Davoudian said. “They’re making movies in games.” Over the past few years publishers have reduced the number of titles they release, but they are allocating larger budgets to each of the titles to capitalize on the visual effects capabilities of the newer platforms. An average game has a budget of $6 million, and in some cases, that figure creeps up to $10 million. Out of that, studios routinely outsource visual effects work to firms such as Brain Zoo to save time and money. “The more alive they want to make the environments, the more money they have to put into it,” Davoudian said. Currently, Brain Zoo is working on introductory scenes from Electronic Arts’ “Medal of Honor” game and Disney’s “Shark Tale.” Brain Zoo is also seeing more business from the music and advertising industries, including music videos and commercials, Davoudian said. “Some bands release games before CDs,” he said. Davoudian said, “there’s quite a bit of competition,” sometimes with large visual effects companies, but it does not faze him. “We compete with ourselves,” he said. “We’re happy with the quality of work.” He also pointed out that as Brain Zoo grows, there are no plans to expand operations overseas to save money. Offshore outsourcing has been a trend Davoudian has chosen to buck. “We’re happy with everything here, we’re an American company,” Davoudian said. “We don’t have any intention of moving out of the country.” SPOTLIGHT: Brain Zoo Studios Year Founded: 1995 Employees in 1995: 3 Employees in 2004: 22 Revenues in 1995: $200,000 Revenues in 2003: $8 million Goal: To combine the video game and the film industry Driving Force: Create quality animation and visual effects at affordable prices and eventually make animated feature films

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