I got this news in a cryptic phone call a couple hours ago (obviously near the time of the news release):
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.
IM Digital only recently moved into a newer facility in Novato. Before that, it was in San Rafael. And growing.
This isn't hard to figure out. Disney grossed $324 million worldwide with Christmas Carol, and admits to spending $174 million on the picture (and with the way studios move internal money around, it would be tough to say how accurate this is.) By the time the Mouse finished advertising the feature, and projecting downstream cash flow for the feature, they undoubtedly deduced that they were going to be in the red with CC for a long time.
Disney still wants to be in business with Robert Zemeckis, for he has a long string of box office hits and so still has juice. But Disney doesn't want to be carrying a large northern California studio paying union wages and union benefits.
The less expensive route is to job the motion capture out and rein in costs, and that (I'm guessing) is what Diz Co. will be doing. Richard Ross, after all, wasn't put into the Dick Cook captain's chair to shower people with money. As an IM Digital staffer said to me today by phone:
"Ross came though a little while ago, and we all wondered what was going to happen. Now we know."
No big surprise there. Mr. Ross, from his perspective, is "working to stop the hemorrhaging."
From our perspective, he's slashing and burning. But hey, it's all in your point of view, right?