Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In SiliWood, Dreams, Data Collide as Defense Jobs Have Diminished, High-Tech Firms Are Filling in the Gaps in L.A.'S Economy

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In SiliWood, Dreams, Data Collide as Defense Jobs Have Diminished, High-Tech Firms Are Filling in the Gaps in L.A.'S Economy

Article excerpt

At a designer-rehabbed warehouse here, 200 computer imagineers are reinventing the future of feature films, TV commercials, theme parks, and video games.

Using refrigerator-sized computer banks that whirr in air-conditioned backrooms, artists, animators, and modelmakers create talking pigs (for the movie "Babe"), cola-sipping polar bears for TV ads, and three-dimensional visuals for futuristic thrill rides.

For the city of Los Angeles, this is the economic future.

"It would be impossible for us to thrive in New York, Chicago, or Paris," says John Hughes, president of Rhythm & Hues (R&H), a multimedia firm. Having the film, commercials, park and game industries together is a critical mix. And "that is something you have only in L.A."

The new sector of the economy has been dubbed "SiliWood" - a cross between Silicon Valley's computer wizardry and Hollywood's imagination. As defense and aerospace have diminished as a flywheel to the regional economy - gutted to the tune of 350,000 jobs since 1990 by post-cold-war downsizing - Siliwood is moving in to fill in the gaps.

"It's one of the largest national, big-city turnarounds in decades," says Joel Kotkin, of the Center for the New West in Denver. "What's remarkable is that for the first time, L.A. is not coming back to what it was before.... It is coming back to something different."

According to a recent Los Angeles Times study, movie production and amusements now account for almost three times as many jobs as aerospace in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Film and entertainment added 18,800 jobs in 1995 or 1-1/2 for every aerospace job lost in the same period. The trend is likely to continue.

"The demand for our services is soaring," adds Mr. Hughes, whose company produces digital effects for about $1 million per minute of finished product. "We expect to be nearly twice our current size in two years."

Besides Los Angeles-based films and commercials, R&H has customers from as close as Las Vegas - where it will create a motion-based simulator ride for the Las Vegas Hilton in 1997 - to as far away as Japan, for which R&H has designed underwater visuals for a theme park. …

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