The abrupt departure of director James "King of the World" Cameron and effects genius Stan Winston from the board of Digital Domain has left L.A.'s tech and entertainment industries abuzz over the fate of the Venice-based visual effects house.

Indeed, the rumors have been fueled by the involved parties' terseness. A company spokesman would only confirm that the two co-founders had, in fact, left the board, and read from a prepared statement to thank the two men for their "tremendous contributions over the last five years." For their part, Cameron and Winston have been mum on their future career plans.

Despite a deluge of doomsday predictions, the fate of Digital Domain is very much up in their air. Both Cameron and Winston are leaving their ownership stakes which collectively constitute about 20 percent intact. Digital Domain's president, chief executive and co-founder Scott Ross will remain at the helm, as he has since the company's inception in 1993.

Moreover, Cameron's departure may even help Digital Domain. The company's work on "Titanic" may have made it a household name, but it came close to sinking the effects house, which reportedly charged Cameron below-market rates for its extensive work on the movie.

"(Digital Domain) had to sink so much of its time and resources into 'Titanic' that they couldn't take other full-paying projects," said an executive at another Los Angeles special effects company. "They were really, really struggling. Remember, this is before anyone expected 'Titanic' to blow the box office away. Now, Digital Domain may actually be able to increase its profit margins."

But other industry sources believe that without Cameron's star power and mega-projects behind it, Digital Domain will be severely wounded.

Whatever the outcome, Digital Domain executives at least those who are willing to talk to the press sound sanguine about the issue.

"(Cameron's and Winston's) reasons for leaving are more administrative than anything else," one exec said.

CyberMedia Inc., the struggling Santa Monica-based utility software company, has to wait a bit longer for financial relief thanks to an overworked Department of Justice employee.

Last week, CyberMedia and Santa Clara-based Network Associates Inc. announced that they voluntarily withdrew and resubmitted antitrust documents with the Department of Justice concerning Network Associates' purchase of CyberMedia. The latter company, which has suffered on Wall Street since last March when its chief executive stepped down after irregularities were found in its SEC filings, announced the sale at the end of July. Network Associates extended a $9.50-per-share cash tender offer to buy all of CyberMedia's outstanding shares.

The deal was expected to clear Justice last week, but now will have to go through another 15-day waiting period.

Such extensions normally occur when antitrust problems are spotted in a pending corporate sale or in a hostile takeover situation. Neither is the case in this deal, assured one Network Associates executive. Instead, the appointed Department of Justice employee told the companies that he simply hadn't had time to review the sale sufficiently.

"There is no problem with the deal," said Jennifer Keavney, a spokeswoman for Network Associates. "Everything is moving ahead."

The deadline to register for VentureNet '98, the Software Council of Southern California's third annual venture capital conference, is fast approaching. Internet and software companies interested in presenting their business plans to venture capitalists at the conference have until September 15 to file applications with the Software Council.

Companies that have given presentations at previous VentureNet events have raised more than $200 million in funding, according to Bill Manassero, executive director of the Software Council. Local Internet sensation GeoCities was the hit of last year's conference. Venture Net '98, which will be held November 4-5 in Costa Mesa, will feature workshops for start-up and transition companies, capital presentations by developing companies and an exhibitor area.

Sara Fisher can be reached via e-mail at saramf@aol.com

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