Hawaii-based film cgi veteran encourages BYUH students

Cheryl LaMont[Story and photo by Mike Foley, originally published online in the BYU-Hawaii Newsroom, March 29, 2005]

Cheryl LaMont [pictured at right], President and CEO of Dot C Software — a Kailua, Hawaii business that does photorealistic 3D computer generated imagery (cgi) for Hollywood and other major clients around the world — urged students interested in computerized animation and other film effects in the March 29 School of Business Entrepreneurship Lecture to pursue their dreams.

“It’s always a privilege to speak to students who are interested in film-quality software,” said LaMont, who added her company has developed proprietary software that renders three-dimensional effects for well-known industry giants Dreamworks, Sony and others, and has done work on films such as The Matrix and Jurassic Park.

LaMont said when she first met Steven Speilberg in 1991, “software had a very minor role in film. It was a hard sell to get the studios to use it. Today, the only films that don’t use CGI are documentaries.”

“Those people in Hollywood that I’m good friends with have risen up, up, up. That’s one of the chief reasons we get most of the smaller jobs,” LaMont continued, pointing out Dot C is “not a film studio. We could be, because we have animators…but my chief interest is in software.”

She explained Hollywood and other special effects producers use software such as Maya “to draw outlines and make wireframe pictures,” while her renderer software “fills in all of the textures, hair, and movements. Our renderer does water and fire particularly well. Some of the people in one of our films in India actually got up and ran out when they saw the fire [on screen].”

LaMont said her company works with producers around the world — some of whom haven’t graduated from college. “Currently, I’m producing a game with a large company locally. We’re just ramping up for that. We’re also working on two films, and we were invited to China. For the opening of the Beijing Olympics, they want to have some short films, and we are one of the partners in that.”

Asked how she manages a company that does business around the world, LaMont replied, “The people I hire I’ve known for a long time. My business is built on trust and mutual respect. Most of these people, if they do err, err on the other side. For example, if they make a mistake, they’ll spend a whole week fixing it. It’s really important in this business that people trust you. It is also very challenging to work with film companies, because they’re the 900-pound gorilla, and that’s not going to change any time in the future.”

“Sometimes you have to tell them, however, that it’s going to take longer to get a certain feature. Then what they usually do is drop me and get somebody in Hollywood to do it. It’s a big gamble. You can lose money, and they [the studios] can squeeze you out, but I choose to take the higher road.”

“It has been a wonderful opportunity for me to be able to do something for where I grew up, Hawaii — not because the business climate is so great, but because this is my home, and it inspires me. But it’s also a hard, difficult job. There are constant struggles maintaining your bottom line and making sure your employees (are happy). You can have a wonderful life here…but it takes more work to create opportunities. The payoff, of course, is you see your name…when the credits roll.”

LaMont said she also enjoys “mentoring people, encouraging them, and showing them how much fun it is,” and in fact, offered to introduce interested students to people in the industry. Meanwhile, she recommended those students get to know Maya-brand software.

“If you’ve created a Maya program, you have to translate it. Rendering software is not click-and-play, but it’s not hard to learn. If you have a very artistic eye, you would be able to use these tools. It’s not as fast as learning Flash™, but the payoff is tremendous. She also recommended interested students work with experienced people, that is, “go through a mentoring process.”

“When I first started doing this, people said, ‘you’re dreaming. There’s no way you’re going to be able to pay your people, and we have all these wonderful people in Hollywood.'”

“When people tell me I can’t, then I must. I don’t think there are any obstacles to any of you succeeding and doing what you want in life — whatever it is. If you’re good at it, don’t give it up.”

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