Local Special Effects Firm Has Lofty Goals

By Alison Lee Satake, posted Apr 30, 2010

When fog rolls in during a scene in a movie or video, Wilmington’s Digieffects may have had a hand in that atmospheric change. The professional digital video editing software company located in downtown Wilmington has nine products that video editors use to create haze, distortion, 3D, and other special effects. “We make special effects software. They are plug-ins into video editing software,” said Robert Sharp, Digieffects president.

To support the local community, Sharp said, no one in Wilmington will be charged for Digieffects’ products. Sharp, who grew up in Tokyo, followed a winding life path which included two months of living in a tent on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. At the height of the dot-com boom, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, a hotbed for technology. Although he wanted to break into the tech industry, he was met with closed doors at every step. He finally convinced a software developer who wanted to break into the Japanese market to hire him. Within six months, Sharp had the developer’s product on retail shelves in Japan, he said.

By 2005, he decided he wanted to acquire a company and his requirements were specific. He wanted to own a turn-around company, because he did not want to build a company from scratch. He wanted existing customers. He wanted to work with professional video software priced between $100 and $1,000. And he wanted to be able to live anywhere in the U.S.

In May 2007, he bought Digieffects, which was based in Austin, Texas, and moved it to Wilmington in July that year.
Sharp was familiar with the company from his work in 1999 when he founded, a reseller of digital video products, which his brothers continue to run in San Francisco. When he purchased Digieffects, the company had no revenue, he said. This year, the company’s revenue was about $1 million. He has signed an exclusive agreement with Adobe to distribute a 3D plug-in called Digieffects Freeform with the new Adobe Creative Suite 5, which launched on April 12.

He has drawn from the local community to staff his five full-time and five part-time staff. He has developed a relationship with UNCW’s film studies and computer science departments, which feed him software engineers and creative types for his company, he said. And he needs more software engineers, he said.

His goal for the company in the next year is to improve its nine products. And his company caters to such a niche industry, he said, “If your product is not excellent, you’re dead.”

Although he intended to eventually sell the company when he first purchased it, that has changed. Instead he wants to build it into a profitable organization for Wilmington, he said. With his wife, Jonnie Sharp, he will open an entrepreneurial incubator space on May 1 at 27 North Front Street and will move Digieffects to the renovated 2,500 square foot space.

About 18 work stations will support start-ups and local entrepreneurs, who can join the incubator like joining a gym to access the conference room and office environment. Now he sees Digieffects as a piece in the local economic development puzzle. “I’d love for it to be the next PPD of Wilmington,” he said. ­­

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