California Visual Effects Studio Whiskytree to Double its Operations, Announces Expansion to Georgia

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

Whiskytree, the renowned visual effects studio behind some of cinema's most iconic landscapes, is embarking on an exciting new chapter with the launch of its second location in Georgia. Situated just outside Atlanta in Alpharetta, The Whiskytree Southern Corporation is set to significantly augment the company's footprint, boasting a cadre of fresh talents and doubling its workforce. This expansion comes in response to the burgeoning demand for Whiskytree's services and underscores Georgia's burgeoning status as a global entertainment hub. Jonathan Harb, CEO and founder, underscores the strategic importance of this move, citing Georgia's robust infrastructure and state support as key factors.

Since its inception in 2007 by industry veterans from Industrial Light and Magic, Whiskytree has been synonymous with excellence, reliability, and groundbreaking design. From the majestic realms of Thor's Asgard to the tranquil landscapes of Obi-Wan Kenobi's Alderaan, Whiskytree's contributions have left an indelible mark on cinematic history. The new Georgia office, operational since earlier this month, is actively recruiting a blend of on-site and remote talent to join its ranks. Leveraging the power of cloud computing through Amazon Web Services (AWS), Whiskytree has revolutionized its pipeline, facilitating seamless collaboration and real-time interaction among artists across the nation. This advancement promises to expedite project turnaround times and enhance client collaboration, positioning Whiskytree at the forefront of innovation in the visual effects industry.

PH: Congratulations on the expansion of Whiskytree to Georgia! What factors led to the decision to open a second location in Alpharetta?

Jonathan Harb: Thank you! Before opening in Georgia, our sole location had been in Northern California, in the Bay Area. For the last decade or so, we’ve been swimming upstream against the impact of incentivized territories on visual effects work. I’ve had countless producers tell me that they would love to work with us, but simply can’t because we are not in an incentivized territory.  

We wanted to identify an incentivized territory that made sense for us, and had the potential to continue to grow. I have roots in the South, and I’ve spent a lot of time on the coast of Georgia over the years. I was already familiar with the state, and knew that the quality of life in Alpharetta was great. Being able to offer our staff another great place to live and work was a major draw for us.

PH: How do you envision the new Georgia location complementing the original studio in San Rafael, California?

Jonathan Harb: Our Georgia location will first and foremost double our capacity for work, and add the advantage of an incentivized location. Our pipeline was recently adapted to take advantage of the cloud, so for some projects we will be able to share the work between locations and have artists work in two time zones as well. 

PH: Could you tell us more about the types of projects that Whiskytree will be taking on in 2024, both in California and Georgia?

Jonathan Harb: We will continue working on feature film projects in both locations, as well as episodic streaming content. The quality of work for both of these types of projects are often equivalent. You’ll see some projects land in both facilities, whereas those taking advantage of Georgia’s incentives will be completed entirely within the state of Georgia.

PH: Whiskytree has worked on some iconic locations in film history. How does the team approach creating imaginative designs for such well-known settings?

Jonathan Harb: Whiskytree is a very collaborative company, and our work is the result of teamwork. The same can be said for our approach to design work. Incredible creative talent provides our clients with the resources they need to realize their visions, but there is a very important component to our design process that we excel at: our listening skills.  

PH: With the recent upgrade of your pipeline to utilize cloud computing on the AWS platform, how has this impacted collaboration and project turnaround times for Whiskytree? 

Jonathan Harb: Rendering takes less linear time, and virtual workstations have added a ton of flexibility to our pipeline. Setting up a new location was dramatically easier and less expensive than the legacy approach of an on-site machine room.

PH: What opportunities and challenges do you anticipate with hiring a mix of on-site and remote employees for the new Georgia location?

Jonathan Harb: We’re adept with a hybrid working environment, and our move to AWS really strengthened our ability to work on and off-site. Our biggest challenge is always the timing of our hiring, which at present, is good!

PH: Given the booming film and television industry in Georgia, how do you plan to leverage local talent and resources for Whiskytree's expansion?

Jonathan Harb: We plan to leverage local talent for every hire we make in Georgia. We’ve reached out to several universities and other educational institutions, and will be actively participating in creating curricula for the Georgia Film Academy geared directly toward what we do at Whiskytree.  

PH: Can you speak to the importance of keeping post-production work in Georgia and the benefits it brings to both studios and local productions?

Jonathan Harb: Post-production jobs offer the promise of more stable and consistent work than many production jobs that may only last the length of a single shoot. So fundamentally, more post-production jobs can mean more people having steadier jobs that last. Projects that shoot in Georgia can take advantage of the state’s incentives for filming, then continue to receive the benefits of post-production incentives by using our Georgia location for their VFX work. Plus, offering world-class VFX work within the state bolsters both the profile of work happening in the state and the total resources available to the Georgia entertainment industry as a whole.  

PH: How does Whiskytree maintain its reputation for quality and reliability amidst the fast-paced and ever-changing demands of the entertainment industry?

Jonathan Harb: Whiskytree has earned a reputation for being able to consistently and reliably deliver the highest level of effects. We also work extremely hard to create a great collaborative experience for our clients. 

PH: Looking ahead, what are your long-term goals for Whiskytree, both in terms of growth and the types of projects you hope to tackle?

Jonathan Harb: We aim to maintain a capacity of 75-100 working artists and support staff across both of our locations, and continue to work on high profile feature film and episodic content.

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