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Disney to close Florida animation unit


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#1 of 32 OFFLINE   Keith Paynter

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Posted January 11 2004 - 03:38 AM

As expected due to poor performance in its hand-drawn animation features of late, the Orlando studio will close Monday (tomorrow), putting 260 animators out of work.

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#2 of 32 OFFLINE   Phil Florian

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Posted January 11 2004 - 05:55 AM

Of course, this will be based on the fact that the suits think that people prefer computer animation vs. handdrawn. Will it ever occur to them that it is all about good stories, characters and vision? Oh well, sad end to a long roller coaster of a ride. Will this stop the yearly DTV horrid sequels?


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#3 of 32 OFFLINE   Edwin-S

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Posted January 11 2004 - 06:15 AM

Will this stop the yearly DTV horrid sequels?


Weren't most of those produced using their Japanese, Australian, and Canadian units? I thought the Florida unit was just Feature work.

I saw a trailer for a Disney animated film that was very unusual stylistically. It looked hand animated, but unfortunately I cannot remember the name of it. I only saw the trailer once.

It is too bad they are closing down the unit. The problem isn't the animators. The problem is a management bereft of any creativity. As long as Michael "Cancer Man" Eisner is in charge I see no real improvement in their animation division for years to come. The derivative "Brother Bear" is a glimpse of the future for Disney animation.
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#4 of 32 OFFLINE   Pete SE

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Posted January 11 2004 - 07:51 AM

Edwin,

I believe the trailer you are referring to is "Home On The Range". It will be realeased this summer.

#5 of 32 OFFLINE   MatthewLouwrens

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Posted January 11 2004 - 08:08 AM

The poor performance of Disney animation is because of poor films (the only half-decent film in years was Lilo & Stitch - it wasn't classic Disney, but it was a good film).

The success of Pixar films has not been because of CG animation, but because they focus first on making good movies that people will enjoy, and they minimise the preachy moralising that films like Brother Bear are (reportedly) filled with.

Still, it's sad to see this happen. With the unit closed, there is no hope for good hand-drawn animation from Disney.

Quote:
Will this stop the yearly DTV horrid sequels?
Well, there won't be any new movies to make DTV sequels to. One good thing, I guess...
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#6 of 32 OFFLINE   george kaplan

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Posted January 11 2004 - 08:42 AM

I'm pretty sure there were cheap handdrawn direct to video sequels to computer animated films like Toy Story, so there's no reason to think that won't continue.
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#7 of 32 OFFLINE   Edwin-S

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Posted January 11 2004 - 09:07 AM

I believe the trailer you are referring to is "Home On The Range".


Nope. The film was definitely not HOME ON THE RANGE. HotR has all the hallmarks of normal Disney fare. The trailer I saw was really something stylistically different for Disney. I just wish I could remember what the thing was about.
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#8 of 32 OFFLINE   Edwin-S

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Posted January 11 2004 - 09:16 AM

Okay. I found it. The thing is called "Teacher's Pet." Apparently it is based on a TV series. Stylistically, I find it to be unusual for Disney. It is basically a twist on the Pinocchio story.
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#9 of 32 OFFLINE   MatthewLouwrens

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Posted January 11 2004 - 09:27 AM

Jim Hill Media has an interesting article about the reasons behind the closure. He also has a press release inthe article, about a new Florida-based animation studio opened up by former Disney animators.

Quote:
Continuing Walt's Legacy
ORLANDO, FLORIDA (January 8, 2004) -- Legacy Animation Studios, a new animation production studio in Orlando, Florida, opens its doors in Winter Garden, Florida, close to Orlando later this month. The studio will offer a full-range of traditional hand drawn (or 2D) animation services for film, television and commercials. Legacy was established by a group of animators and artists formerly employed by Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida. Legacy will also be dedicated to developing original properties for television and film. In time the studio hopes to produce its first feature film project.
"We believe that traditionally animated films are still a viable form of entertainment," says Legacy Animation Studios Directing Manager, Eddie Pittman. "Our goal is to create quality animated films with compelling stories and strong characters and to continue Walt Disney's legacy of hand drawn animation."
The Legacy team has the talent to back up their claim, with the combined experience of over 25 animated films including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Mulan, and Lilo and Stitch.
Pittman has worked on such animated features as Mulan, Tarzan, and Lilo and Stitch. He has taught for the renowned Computer Animation program at Ringling School of Art and Design, and his popular drawing classes taught around Central Florida have been recommended to aspiring animators by Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida. Recently, he produced and directed Legends of the Night Sky: Orion, the world's first full dome (360°) traditionally animated movie.
Also joining the management team as Creative Director is veteran assistant animator David Nethery. Nethery has nearly 20 years of experience as an animation artist, most of those years at Walt Disney Feature Animation. His credits include such characters as "Meeko" the raccoon from Pocahontas, "Mushu" from Mulan, "Cobra Bubbles" from Lilo and Stitch, and most recently "Tug" and "Koda's Mom" from Brother Bear.
Legacy currently has three projects in development, including a short film that will begin production in late January 2004.
For more information, visit http://www.legacyanimation.net/.


This is also mentioned in the IMDb StudioBriefing
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#10 of 32 OFFLINE   Edwin-S

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Posted January 11 2004 - 09:49 AM

Well, that is an eye opening article. "Teacher's Pet" fits very well into Disney's new corporate model for double dipping by releasing made-for-video animated films into theatres first. They have turned the theatrical release into an advertisement for the "real" release onto home video. Meanwhile, the workers at WDFA-Florida get the shaft. Something tells me the wrong guy got killed in that 'copter crash.
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#11 of 32 OFFLINE   Keith Paynter

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Posted January 11 2004 - 10:02 AM

The Jim Hill article is an eye opener. I always suspected that all those 'supposed' theatrical sequels were just gateways to direct-to-video, attempting to legitimize their status by appearing in theaters first.

When Walt was told to 'give us more dwarfs', he steadfastly refused, and never duplicated any of his feature works (with the potential exception of Fantasia, which was originally meant to continually change, which kinda happened with Fantasia 2000). Some new stories failed (The Black Cauldron comes to mind), but they always created new projects.

With the exception of Pixar projects, I have wasted little time, energy (and money) on Disney animation outside their classics. No DTV products grace my shelves, (especially anything ending in 'II'), and the Mouse House will see very little of it in the future.

Good luck to Legacy - theirs is an uphill battle, as Don Bluth has learned.

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Something tells me the wrong guy got killed in that 'copter crash

Subtle...but I tend to agree.
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#12 of 32 OFFLINE   MatthewLouwrens

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Posted January 11 2004 - 11:08 AM

Toy Story 2 was originally a DTV product that was released to cinema because it became clear that it was quality product that deserved to be seen on the big screen. They put the work into ensuring that it was of the expected quality, and the film stands up as another great Pizar film.

So I have no problem conceptually with DTV product being released to cinema, provided the product deserves it and it's of high quality. But the stuff having cinema release now? Awful. Jungle Book 2? Who actually thinks that this is worth putting the Disney name to?

By the way, what helicopter crash are you talking about?
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#13 of 32 OFFLINE   Keith Paynter

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Posted January 11 2004 - 11:58 AM

The late Frank Wells, President & COO of Disney, died in a helicopter crash on April 8th, 1994. The Lion King was dedicated to Wells onscreen as the film begins before the opening number 'Circle Of Life'.

Micheal Eisner has driven every nail into Disney's corporate coffin ever since.
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#14 of 32 OFFLINE   Paul_Sjordal

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Posted January 11 2004 - 01:15 PM

For the folks in Legacy, this may actually turn out to be a blessing. I think the Disney executives have been the primary reason for so much crap coming out of those animation studios, now we get to find out if I was right.

Still, at the end of the day there will be a lot fewer American animators working, and that is a bad thing. Posted Image
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#15 of 32 OFFLINE   Jason Seaver

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Posted January 11 2004 - 01:21 PM

Quote:
The poor performance of Disney animation is because of poor films (the only half-decent film in years was Lilo & Stitch - it wasn't classic Disney, but it was a good film).

The success of Pixar films has not been because of CG animation, but because they focus first on making good movies that people will enjoy, and they minimise the preachy moralising that films like Brother Bear are (reportedly) filled with.
I think it's simplistic to attribute one cause like that. Yes, the Pixar films have been great while the Disney ones have been more of a mixed bag. But just talking with family and friends who don't go to every movie like I do, I think that there is a real preference for CGI over tradition hand-drawn animation out there, at least among adults and teenagers. I don't defend it, and I think it's wrong-headed, but I do think that for whatever reason, things by Pixar, PDI, and even Ice Age are not perceived as "cartoons for kids" the way traditional animation is, even though some (such as Ice Age) are far more cartoony than "normal" Disney features.

Why is that? Well, I think part of it is because of marketing. Not the amount, but I notice CGI films tend to promote their name stars more than Disney ever did. Even when it's not done in the obvious way that DreamWorks promoted Shrek, there still seems to be more awareness of the voices for Toy Story 2 or Antz than there was for, say, Titan AE or even The Emperor's New Groove (which had great celebrity voice-casting). And names sell.

I think the look is important, too. Audiences have grown accustomed to "realism" in their films, especially live-action ones - which means when they see animation, they're not prepared to see something visually inventive. When I talk to casual moviegoers about animation, they always mention how "real" Pixar's movies look, and dismiss the nifty design work of Treasure Planet or Atlantis. Heaven knows how they'd react to The Triplets Of Belleville.

(And I don't think it's just casual moviegoers - it's like pulling teeth to get even people who see a lot of films to admit that, yes, one of the reasons to see Finding Nemo is that it's absolutely beautiful; I like character and dialogue as much as the next person, but give style its due!)

And that's only two factors, other than plain "quality" (which doesn't explain the public's complete and utter ignorance of The Iron Giant). I wish I knew how to combat these perceptions, but I don't think it does anyone any favors to pretend they don't exist.
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#16 of 32 OFFLINE   MatthewLouwrens

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Posted January 11 2004 - 02:01 PM

Jason - Good points. It probably is true that people, especially adults and teens, are likely to percieve traditional animation as "kid's films", while viewing other animated films as less embarrassing to be seen going to. Sadly.
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#17 of 32 OFFLINE   MatthewLouwrens

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Posted January 13 2004 - 03:32 PM

There's another great article at Jim Hill media here detailing the meeting where the Florida unit were finally told that the unit was being closed. The best section of the article:
Quote:
The crowd -- already angered by that "core people" comment -- peppered him with pointed questions. Which supposedly started with: "Why is the Walt Disney Company flooding the feature animation market with all these low quality direct-to-video sequels?'

Now Stainton (who -- it should be pointed out -- up until very recently was actually in charge of Disney Television Animation, the division of the Walt Disney Company that makes those direct-to-video films) supposedly tried to defend his old division, saying "Now they're not low quality films ..."

... Only to be shouted down by all those assembled.

David reportedly tried to continue, insisting that "the public couldn't really tell the difference between the direct-to-video stuff and the films that Feature Animation actually produces." This comment was also met with boos.

Sensing that he wasn't exactly going to be able win this crowd over by answering that question, Stainton quickly moved on to another query. Which allegedly was: "For the footage that I've seen so far of 'Chicken Little,' it's clear that we're just trying to copy Pixar now. Why isn't Disney trying to make its own kind of CG films?"

David reportedly tried to reply by saying that it was Pixar that was copying Disney, not the other way. That Pixar had borrowed Disney Animation's old production model (I.E. Keeping all of its artists under one roof, concentrating all of its resources on one film at a time). How Pixar had established this "braintrust" of directors and story people who helped each other, who worked together so that that studio could always get the most out of every single project.

"Disney needs to get back to that sort of production system in order to stay competitive," Stainton supposedly continued. "But -- in order to do that -- we have to shut down all of our satellite studios like Paris, Tokyo and Orlando."

Following up on the Pixar question, one of the WDFA-F staffers there reportedly asked: "How is Disney Feature Animation going to distinguish its computer animated films movies from all the other CG features out there?" Stainton allegedly said that he wanted WDFA to start producing CG movies that " ... that have songs. Movies that have heart. Movies that definitely have humor. Movies that push the art of the film-making forward." David then supposedly went on to say that -- once Disney got started making CG films that featured human characters -- that ".. that's something that's going to set us apart" from what Pixar, Dreamworks and Sony are doing.

Given the way that Stainton had answered the above question, it was clear that the Mouse was now going whole hog for CG. Which was when one brave WDFA-F staffer reportedly stood up and asked the $64,000 question: "So it's true, then. Disney's actually getting out of the traditional animation business?"

Stainton allegedly said: "Yes. For a while, anyway." This response supposedly immediately brought boos from the audience. Which is why David reportedly began to back pedal, saying things like: "We do have two new traditional animated projects in development. And -- if it were the right time and the right project came along -- I'm sure that we'd do 2D again. But -- for right now -- Disney's going to concentrate on doing just CG."

The traditionally trained WDFA-F staffers began booing Stainton's presentation in earnest at that point. To hear that the Walt Disney Company had officially decided to turn its back on traditional animation just made the group furious.


The most illuminating thing in the article?

Quote:
Mind you, some WDFA-F staffers were quietly approached as they exited yesterday's meeting. They were then quickly pulled into nearby offices by members of WDFA-F management. Where they were reportedly offered contracts that would allow them to continue to work for Disney Feature Animation. IF they agreed to relocate to Burbank. But given how badly these staffers had treated over the past eight weeks by the Walt Disney Company, many of those artists and technicians who were approached yesterday just laughed and said "Hell, no."

So -- all in all -- it was a pretty terrible day for Disney Feature Animation. With 200 WDFA-F staffers being laid off or fired by March 19th, the president of the division jeered, and a dozen or more artists and technicians actually turning down work rather than returning to the Disney fold. Mickey got himself a black eye today that -- I'm afraid -- won't fade for years yet to come.


Jum Hill also wrote an article at AICN with an interesting story.
Quote:
How bad has it gotten, Knowles? Well, let me tell you about a project that the Imagineers are prepping for the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Harry. It’s an attraction called “Stitch’s Great Escape,” which is sort of a prequel to Disney’s 2002 release, “Lilo & Stitch.”

Anyway, this Tomorrowland-based show – which will be replacing “The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter” – needed a few minutes of new traditionally animated footage featuring characters from “Lilo & Stitch.” You know, for the attraction’s pre-show as well as to supplement the action in the show’s main theater. So – a week or so ago -- WDI approached WDFA and asked them if they’d be interested in producing the animation portion of this project.

And the folks at Disney Feature Animation were reportedly forced to say: “Gee, I’m sorry. We’re going to have to take a pass on doing the animation for ‘Stitch’s Great Escape.’ “Not because they were too busy with some other project, Harry. But because the knuckleheads who are now in charge of Disney Feature Animation had fired all the people who actually knew how to do traditional animation. So apparently there was no one left in the building (at least out in Burbank) who could now replicate “Lilo & Stitch” ‘s distinctive hand-drawn style.

Which was why Walt Disney Imagineering was forced to look elsewhere to find people who could provide the necessary traditional-looking, hand-drawn animation footage for WDW’s “Stitch’s Great Escape” show. Luckily, a company called Renegade Animation (You can sample some of that studio’s handiwork by following this link, Knowles: RenegadeAnimation) was up to the task. Even if WDFA wasn’t.

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#18 of 32 OFFLINE   Adam Lenhardt

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Posted January 13 2004 - 03:43 PM

Quote:
For the folks in Legacy, this may actually turn out to be a blessing. I think the Disney executives have been the primary reason for so much crap coming out of those animation studios, now we get to find out if I was right.
The only problem will be that Legacy lacks Disney's billion dollar budget. They're aiming to start small with a short film early this year. I figure they plan to run the festival circuit, get their name out there, and get contracted to make a film by one of the majors in a Pixar/Disney type situation. It'll probably be a few years until we see anything major come from them.

That said, more power to them. I'm glad SOMEBODY cares about Walt Disney's legacy.

#19 of 32 OFFLINE   Edwin-S

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Posted January 13 2004 - 06:13 PM

David reportedly tried to continue, insisting that "the public couldn't really tell the difference between the direct-to-video stuff and the films that Feature Animation actually produces." This comment was also met with boos.


Unfortunately, he is probably close to the truth. The casual movie viewer (as opposed to the animation buff) probably doesn't see the difference between Direct to video and feature quality animation.

Hell, even so called "movie buffs" have no respect for this kind of filmmaking. Every time they want to insult a live action movie they refer to it as "like a cartoon" or "cartoonish." Which goes to show what they think of animation in ranking filmmaking quality.

I sure would like to know how some people interpret "all-CGI" features as adult orientated, and traditional 2-D material as "kid's stuff." FINDING NEMO is a perfect example. It is a beautiful picture to look at, but the story is typical of the kind of stuff Disney built their business on. It certainly isn't innovative storytelling. FN even had the requisite "fake death" scenario that has become, IMO, an animation cliche.

That is why I have more respect for "failures" like FINAL FANTASY or TITAN AE. At least the makers try to do something different with the artform. They don't fall back on the, "AW SHUCKS....that is so cuuuuute and warrrm and fuzzzzy" form of story telling that is such a mainstay of the animated film.

Pixar had established this "braintrust" of directors and story people who helped each other, who worked together so that that studio could always get the most out of every single project.

"Disney needs to get back to that sort of production system in order to stay competitive," Stainton supposedly continued. "But -- in order to do that -- we have to shut down all of our satellite studios like Paris, Tokyo and Orlando."


I like this comment. Disney has to destroy their "braintrust" in order to save it. This guy should have been in the military. What am I saying? He probably was in the military!
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#20 of 32 OFFLINE   JonZ

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Posted January 14 2004 - 12:40 AM

As usual,Disney doesnt have a clue.

Sorry for those loosing their jobs.


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