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Disney to close Bob Zemeckis' digital film studio, laying off hundreds

In a cost-savings move, Walt Disney Studios is shutting down director and producer Robert Zemeckis' ImageMovers Digital studio in Marin County, which employs 450 people. Those employees will be phased out over the course of the year until the facility closes by January 2011.

Zemeckis' San Rafel-based company, which Disney has been bankrolling, produces motion-capture animation technology that was used in the filmmaker's 2009 big-budget holiday movie, "A Christmas Carol."

"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," Disney Studios President Alan Bergman said in a statement.

Ever since ousting Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook and overhauling the movie operation under his successor, Rich Ross, the Burbank studio has been aggressively cutting costs by consolidating operations, slashing overhead and reigning in production and marketing budgets.

"A Christmas Carol" cost the studio hundreds of millions of dollars to make and promote. Disney launched a costly marketing campaign that included a lavish whistle-stop train tour. The movie, which cost about $175 million to produce, generated $324 million in ticket sales worldwide.

ImageMovers is currently completing production on "Mars Needs Moms," which Disney plans to release in March 2011. Zemeckis is also developing a 3-D adaptation of the 1968 Beatles animated film, "Yellow Submarine."

Disney said the studio is "hoping to create a long-term production deal" with Zemeckis and his IMD partners, Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey, which would include the ongoing development of "Yellow Submarine," although no arrangement has been finalized.

Disney has been in partnership with Zemeckis and his motion-capture studio for the last four years. The studio and the filmmaker have had an association since 1988, when Zemeckis directed the groundbreaking hit "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?," a live- action comedy that incorporated animation.

Zemeckis has had a love affair with visual effects since "Roger Rabbit" and has pushed motion-capture technology with such films as Warner Bros.' "The Polar Express" and Paramount Pictures' release "Beowulf."

--Claudia Eller and Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo: Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) in the movie "A Christmas Carol." Credit: Disney
Comments () | Archives (18)

Rutten wrote a column just a week or so ago that said Hollywood isn't going anywhere because of our infrastructure. Moron.

These jobs are headed to Korea, thanks to CA's overbearing progressive tax code and the overall anti-business climate of the state. Entertainment workers keep voting for progressives and this is the result they keep getting. Again and again and again. Like watching a slow motion suicide.

Thank you Gawd. Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol are the ugliest films every created. Literally, the commercials for A Christmas Carol scared my children.

"reining" not "reigning"

"San Rafael" is how the city is spelled.

It's not just going to Korea, but India as well it seems.

I guess Disney never bothered watching A Christmas Carol.

Bergman will make off like a bandit with an incredible bonus and the animators in Marin will lose 100,000's of thousands of dollars before finding other jobs.

The work will be shipped to India where it will be done by telemarketers during their down time.

The only way to win in this society is to be an owner of your own business or a corporate executive. Everybody else are suckers.

Remember that toy you bought your child the last time you visited Disneyland? It was probably made in a sweatshop in China or Haiti by underaged workers. The death of Roy Disney has left the company in the hands of corporate hacks who are crapping on the Disney legacy. Walt Disney was a creative genius and a master showman. The current management is a gaggle of lawyers and MBA's who haven't a clue about how to make a real movie and are jealous of the people who do. Just the fact that they call their moviemakers the "creative content division" tells the whole story. Their philosophy is - we made a lot of bad movies last year and lost money -- so this year we'll make less bad movies for less money and that way, we'll lose less money. Their only hope is to let Steve Jobs and John Lasseter run the studio because if they didn't have Pixar, they'd have gone down the tube already.

@ abelenkpe, speaking as a family member of a soon to be laid off employee, I just wanted to say thanks. We'll be thinking of you and your easily frightened children while we struggle to pay our bills. (Here's a thought - maybe turn off the TV if they are that upset?)

"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," Disney Studios President Alan Bergman said in a statement.

Translation: there are plenty of workers we can exploit oversees, and given that American movie attendance goes up when economic times are bad it's a total win-win for us.

Another 450 well paying jobs lost from CA for good ..... thanks to a repressive state government that does everything it can to keep public employees on the job while taxing good CA companies out of the state.

MO CAP is the new technology.... Anybody see Avatar?.... They are punishing Rob. Zem. for only doubling their money. They are really not thinking clearly. They could be ahead of the curve instead of chasing it.....Another Bad Choice. ABC......

This new Disney should be referred to as the greediest place on earth...besides making buckets of money (at anyone's expense), what does this corporation care about??? certainly not loyalty, integrity or their employees and their livihoods....it's all cut,cut cut...what brains does an approach to business like their's require....?? it's all greed.... and no said profit was a sin...they'll see one day

what they don't realize is KARMA is far more powerful than any cost cutting measure a company like this can institue...we'll live to see their form of greed paid back by these folks in spades...

If he loves visuals so much, why does he make such ugly, creepy-looking movies? His characters are trapped in the uncanny valley...

That sucks for the employees and their families, though. And even though I think his movies are weird-looking, it's still surprising that they're shutting him down even though his movies do seem to make a fair amount of money.

HMMM- not good

"The movie, which cost about $175 million to produce, generated $324 million in ticket sales worldwide." Who's the real Scrooge here? My heart goes out to the families of IMD. We will miss your talent in Marin County.

A little more reporting is needed here. Did the Imagemovers employees work for Zemeckis or Disney? It appears Disney, but in what arrangement? This isn't the first time Disney has done this either. Remember Dreamquest? Disney always tries to do animation and effects in house, then "cuts costs" by cutting jobs, then start divisions to enhance creative control, repeat, etc.

Yeah right, it's California's overbearing taxes and regulation. Give me a break. How about the greed of companies for whom producing a film for 175 million and then getting 324 million in ticket sales just isn't enough? They'd rather go overseas where they can pay people peanuts so they can squeeze ever more profits out, while saying to hell with the American workers who have done such good work over the years, and who support the local economy. They care nothing for our state or our country, only their own increasing profits.

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