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

March 12, 2010 |  2:14 pm

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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
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