Friday, March 12, 2010

Breaking News: Disney shut Robert Zemeckis Image Movers performance capture studio

It's a major news: Disney is going to shut the Robert Zemeckis Image Movers "performance capture" studio. Yes, the same one that was used for the making of "A Christmas Carol" and "Polar Express". The closure of the facility in Marin County, north of San Francisco, will be completed by January and result in the loss of 450 jobs, AP announced.

And from Variety: "Move is also a blow to the Bay Area's filmmaking community, which has seen vfx shops The Orphanage and Giant Killer Robots close in recent years as vfx work flows to locales with tax incentives and lower labor costs.

Announcement came as a shock to employees, who had seen no belt-tightening before they were told IMD would be closed.

Zemeckis was close to former Disney Studios topper Dick Cook and IMD was set up while Cook was running the studio. IMD recently moved into a state-of-the-art facility in renovated airplane hangars at the former Hamilton Landing Air Force Base in Novato. Disney has not decided what will become of that plant.

IMD had pitched itself to artists as a long-term career opportunity and a place to settle, have a family and enjoy good quality-of-life. It has also been among the minority of vfx and animation shops where artists are repped by a union, the Animation Guild, and receive union benefits.

Disney's history of closing successful vfx and animation facilities has earned it considerable ill-will among vfx artists and animators. In the 1990s the Mouse acquired respected vfx studio DreamQuest Images, which did "Dinosaurs," then shuttered and disbanded it. Disney opened an animation studio in Florida, which delivered the hit "Lilo & Stitch," then closed that as well. The "Lilo & Stitch" helmers moved on to DreamWorks Animation, where they recently completed "How to Train Your Dragon."

Here is excerpts of the Associated Press article, you can read the full article HERE:

"To further cut costs at its movie studio, The Walt Disney Co. said Friday that it will shut a San Francisco-area facility used to capture the performance of Jim Carrey for his digitally animated character, Scrooge, in "A Christmas Carol."

The facility was built by ImageMovers Digital, a company co-founded by "A Christmas Carol" director Robert Zemeckis and partially owned by Disney. Motion-capture technology in that facility was used to make the movie; Carrey wore sensors as he acted out scenes, and the data were used to recreate his character on the screen.

Before it closes, the complex will continue to be used by Zemeckis and his team to complete production of "Mars Needs Moms!," a 3-D movie set for release in March 2011.

"Given today's economic realities, we need to find alternative ways to bring creative content to audiences and IMD no longer fits into our business model," Walt Disney Studios president Alan Bergman said.

In a statement, Zemeckis said he was "incredibly proud" of the ImageMovers team and the work it accomplished.

Disney said it hoped to come to a new long-term production deal with Zemeckis and his ImageMovers partners, Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey, including one for a future project called "Yellow Submarine."

Disney's studio has been paring costs and decreasing its movie slate, most recently putting a halt to "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," "Wedding Banned" and "Wild Hogs 2."

Text: copyright Associated Press & Variety

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