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Bollywood Bockbuster Features North Adams Effects Studio

Staff Reports
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Local special effects company Synthespian Studios has a hand in the international blockbuster "Ra.One" that opened over the weekend.

The visual effects shots in the estimated $39 million Bollywood science-fiction opus (a record-buster for India) can be traced to the small North Adams studio. 

Helmed by industry veterans Jeff Kleiser and Diana Walczak of Williamstown, Synthespian Studios' best known film work is the X-Men trilogy (they're responsible for Mystique's transformations) and more recently made a young, blond doppelganger for Bruce Willis in "Surrogates." The new Columbia logo for Columbia Pictures is also their handiwork.

 "Ra.One" star Shah Rukh Khan signed Kleiser in 2010 as lead visual effects supervisor over more than 3,500 SFX in the film. His Red Chilies Entertainment special effects company hired Synthespian to execute 120 visual effects shots for the film involving complex digital transformations of live-action characters.

Graphics programmers headed by Helge Mathee wrote custom software (nicknamed "Q-Bricks") that emulates artificially intelligent systems, giving the component digital cubes a dynamism as they break apart and re-form, behaviorily collaborating with one another as they transmute into unified characters and objects.

Kleiser said the film not only raises the bar with groundbreaking visual effects, but further reflects a globalizing paradigm shift for the production process itself. The film's extensive postproduction work is being carried out by some 800 artists working at 10 different facilities around the world. While most shots were produced in India by redchillies.vfx, Synthespian brought together an array of talent from the United States, Canada, Germany, France and South Africa.

It's a breakthrough that focuses on quality talent rather than proximity or cost, said Kleiser.

"'Ra.One's visual effects represent a global effort from many different companies. It is only through recent advances in digital connectivity that this sort of remote, virtual collaboration has been possible," he said. "We can pick out a team from around the world, and work with them remotely on even the most complex shots that require elements to be created in separate locations and composited together into the same shot. Five years ago, this would have been inconceivable."

"Ra.One," which opened in India and other locations worldwide, features the story of an evil computer game character that breaks out of the virtual world. Rukh Khan plays the programmer and game charactor G.One who stops him. The film — which the features everything from action to musical numbers — has received mixed reviews but opened strong at the box office.



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SABIC Plastics Investing in China

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Saudi Basic Industries Corp. is making significant investment in China.

Its Innovative Plastics division, headquartered in Pittsfield, has made its third Chinese engineering thermoplastics investment this year.

The plastics division, Chongqing Xiyong Micro-electronics Industrial Park, and the Chongqing Economic and Informatization Commission announced on Thursday a memorandum of understanding in which SABIC would establish an engineering thermoplastics compounding plant in Chongqing.

"We are in China, for China. In the more than 30 years we've operated in this region, we've cultivated long-term customer relationships that have helped make SABIC the first supplier many of the world's leading [orginal equipment manufacturer] call when designing their customers' innovations," said Charlie Crew, executive vice president, head of SABIC's Innovative Plastics business."

Chongqing Mayor Huang Qifan said, "This compounding plant in Chongqing Xiyong Micro-electronics Industrial Park is SABIC's third investment in China in 2011 to further enhance the electronics industry."

Today, SABIC in Asia has 41 offices, nine manufacturing sites and five Technology & Innovation Centers across 12 key Asian countries servicing a portfolio of customers across diverse industries.

Innovative Plastics strategic business unit is a multibillion-dollar leading, global supplier of engineering thermoplastics.
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Berkshire Hills Acquires Connecticut Bank

Staff Reports
iBerkshires
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Hills Bancorp Inc. is acquiring Connecticut Bank & Trust Co. for about $30 million. The financial institutions announced on Tuesday they had signed a merger agreement.

Berkshire Hills is the area's largest local banking concern, with assets of more than $4 billion and more than 60 branches in Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont. Connecticut Bank is valued at $283 million and operates eight offices in the Hartford area.

Under the terms of the merger agreement, 70 percent of the outstanding Connecticut shares will be exchanged for Berkshire shares at a fixed exchange ratio of 0.3810 Berkshire shares for each share of Connecticut. The remaining 30 percent of Connectict shares will be exchanged for cash in the amount of $8.25 per share.

This the latest round of mergers for Berkshire Bank's parent. Berkshire Hills merged with Legacy Banks last year.  (Four of Legacy's branches have been taken over by NBT Bank.)

Berkshire's President and Chief Executive Officer Michael P. Daley said expanding into Connecticut has been a long-term goal.

"We will now have a total of 20 branches serving the Hartford/Springfield area, the second largest economic area in New England," he said. "CBT has built a solid franchise in the greater Hartford area, and this combination will provide more lending capacity and product diversity to this market. Like CBT, Berkshire has a local focus and a strong record of community involvement. Based on our demonstrated success in our other regional markets, we are well positioned to build our presence in Hartford."

Consummation of the agreement is subject to the approval of CBT's shareholders, as well as state and federal regulatory agencies. The merger is expected to be completed early in the second quarter of 2012.

Read the full press release on PRNewsWire.
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Physical Therapists Cut Ribbon On New Adams Business

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff

Lori Garabedian, to the right, teamed up with her former co-workers Shannon Yorke and Judy LeBlanc to open their own practice after North Adams Regional Hospital closed the office they worked.
ADAMS, Mass. — Cash-strapped North Adams Regional Hospital closed its satellite physical therapy office in Adams in January but the employees and patients won't have to go far to keep their appointments. Three employees who used to work in the office at The Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter School have now opened Adams Physical Therapy right down the road at the Berkshire Mill.

After 17 years in the county, physical therapist and new business owner Lori Garabedian wasn't about to leave the place she has lived, worked and is raising her three children because her position was eliminated with the closing. Instead she opened the new practice and recruited her co-workers Shannon Yorke and Judy LeBlanc.

"I interviewed around and decided to stay in the Adams, Cheshire area," Garabedian said on Tuesday when she held a ribbon-cutting ceremony. "People are excited; they're happy that we're staying."

Owning a business is a new experience for Garabedian, who has worked the last 14 years with the hospital, but working with the state Small Business Authority, she was able to secure a business loan for the upstart costs. With that she shopped around and found deals on chairs from a Springfield car dealership that was going out of business, furniture from the Holiday Inn that is remodeling and updated equipment from a Pittsfield physical therapist that is retiring. She worked with business and medical consultants to to acquire the right licenses and finally on July 20 the new business took care of their first customers.

"It all came together at once," Garabedian said. "It's exciting, scary. You're taking a chance but I think it's going to be worth it."

Luckily, the office space needed only minimal upgrades before Garabedian moved in and now that the doors are open, Garabedian expects business to operate smoothly because the workers have already spend years working together and the patients are all nearby.

Keeping the business in town has earned Garabedian support from local officials. Board of Selectmen Chairman Arthur "Skip" Harrington and Christine Hoyt, representing the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, both attended the ribbon-cutting to show support.

"It's great to see businesses sighting here in Adams. It's a great community," Harrington said. "Thank you for choosing Adams."

The office is 2,100 square-feet inside of the historic mill that hosts retail and office space on the bottom floor and 60 apartments in the upper floors. The new business treats individuals of all ages for any type of physical therapy. The office is currently open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays will be for appointments only but Garabedian said those hours may change based on need.
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BJ's Grand Opening Set This Weekend

Staff Reports
iBerkshires
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — BJ's Whole Sale Club's grand opening is this weekend at 495 Hubbard St. The store is the 24th opened in Massachusetts and had its soft opening last week.

The club will be open to the general public during the two-day grand opening; membership is required to continue getting savings. 

The wholesaler has more than 85,000 square feet filled groceries, general merchandise, electronics and appliances, as well as a BJ's gas station. It is expected to add up to 120 new jobs.

The grand opening will include food and beverage samples, balloon artists and face painting for kids and
Current Members and the public at large are invited to sample a variety of food and beverages and visit with balloon artists and face painters.


BJ's Fresh Bakery
Full-Service Delicatessen
Grocery store and stock-up sizes
Rotisserie Chicken
New BJ's Cafe
Optical Department
Verizon Wireless Kiosk
BJ's Gas Station

The club will be open to the general public during the two-day grand opening; membership is required to continue getting savings. 
 
The wholesaler has partnered with the Silvio O. Conte Community School as part of its Adopt-a-School program. The school will receive a donation to enhance educational programs and curriculum objectives and a shopping cart full of school supplies. BJ's will also partner with the Berkshire Community Action Council by making a donation its Fuel Assistance Program, which provides eligible households assistance in paying winter heating bills.

"BJ's is excited to open in Pittsfield, and we look forward to serving this community," said Rob Mickett, the Pittsfield general manager. "Not only will area residents now have an even more convenient location to satisfy all their shopping needs, but we are eager to establish a strong relationship with the community and are honored to partner with the Conte Community School and the Berkshire Community Action Council."

Members can save more than 30 percent off retail prices and BJ's also accepts manufacturers coupons and major credit cards. 

Hours are Monday through Saturday 9  to 9 and Sunday 9  to 7.  For more information about the new Pittsfield location, visit www.bjs.com/Pittsfield.
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