Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sony Spiderman Advocate Leaves Studio

Digital pioneer's run ends at Sony

Yair Landau helped build visual effects and animation businesses.

By Dawn C. Chmielewski, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 13, 2008

Yair Landau, the temperamental executive credited with leading Sony Pictures into the digital age, is leaving the studio after nearly two decades.

Landau, who helped build Sony's profitable visual effects business and launch an animation endeavor, said he was leaving his post as president of Sony Pictures Digital in April to start his own games and animation venture.

"I've been here a long time, I've built a lot of good things and they're in very good shape," Landau said. Sony is expected to name a successor shortly. Sony Pictures Chairman and Chief Executive Michael Lynton said Landau approached him and Co-Chairwoman Amy Pascal a few months ago to discuss leaving to start a new media business."We tried to convince him otherwise," Lynton said. "

And he was steadfast."Landau is best-known for securing the rights to the popular Marvel Comics superhero "Spider-Man," which became a lucrative franchise that has generated an estimated $800 million to $900 million in profit for Sony. Under Landau and President Tim Sarnoff, Sony Pictures Imageworks became a thriving digital animation and visual effects company. It has won numerous awards, including the Academy Award for best animated short film in 2003, and the visual effects Oscar in 2005 for its work on "Spider-Man 2."

Landau also established Sony Pictures Animation in 2002, recruiting animation veterans Penney Finkelman Cox and Sandra Rabins to assemble the team. Its first film, "Open Season," became modestly profitable and its 2007 release, "Surf's Up," received an Academy Award nomination for best animated film but is said by Sony insiders to have lost tens of millions of dollars.

Landau also oversaw the growth of Sony Online Entertainment, a San Diego-based maker of online games such as "Everquest" and "Star Wars Galaxies." He advocated using the team's talent to design the online component of the Sony PlayStation 3 game console.

He could be such a passionate advocate for his ideas that some found him arrogant. One former Sony executive recounted how that could result in uncomfortable confrontations with top management in Tokyo that was contrary to the company's consensus-building culture.

Landau joined Sony Pictures in 1991 from the investment banking world, and served as executive vice president of corporate development. He was named to his current post in 1999.Landau helped spur some of the studio's earliest ventures on the Internet, including Screenblast, a user-generated video site, and Movielink, one of the first online movie ventures to use the Internet to legitimately download films. It was sold to Blockbuster Inc."

He brought Sony into the digital age," Lynton said.