Digital Domain Closing Florida Studio; Tembo in Limbo

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Digital Domain

Dig­i­tal Domain

Ani­ma­tion com­pany Dig­i­tal Domain is clos­ing the doors to their Port St. Lucie stu­dio, and in the process, is lay­ing off between 280 and 350 employ­ees. Their first orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion “The Leg­end of Tembo,” is now in limbo.

The com­pany said Fri­day in a state­ment that it would con­tinue to employ a “wind-down” work force of about 20 in St. Lucie County. Dig­i­tal Domain hopes to con­tinue work in a scaled-back form by return­ing to its core busi­ness of pro­vid­ing computer-generated spe­cial effects for other stu­dios. The company’s restruc­tur­ing is not expected to affect Dig­i­tal Domain stu­dios in Cal­i­for­nia and Vancouver.

Th company’s Port St. Lucie stu­dio was opened to con­cen­trate on pro­duc­ing com­plete, orig­i­nal family-type films, not just seg­ments of other people’s movies. By pro­duc­ing their own films, Dig­i­tal Domain was shoot­ing for a poten­tially huge at the box office. The down­side was that the pay­off might be a very long time in com­ing, if it mate­ri­al­ized at all.

The Leg­end of Tembo,” was the first such project, and was sched­uled for release in 2014. The film was hoped to reverse the company’s finan­cial woes, but they just could not hold out long enough fin­ish their project.

The impact from Friday’s clo­sure has yet to really be felt in St. Lucie County. The art com­mu­nity is already feel­ing the effects.

It’s tragic. The peo­ple I feel the most sorry for are the employ­ees,” said Larry Thomp­son, pres­i­dent of Rin­gling Col­lege of Art and Design, who had been closely involved in try­ing to get the stu­dio to move here.

Thomp­son said 10 to 15 Rin­gling alumni worked at the now-closed stu­dio. The college’s career ser­vices depart­ment will offer them help find­ing other jobs.

The com­pany is expected to main­tain the Dig­i­tal Domain Insti­tute ani­ma­tion school along Okee­chobee Boule­vard in down­town West Palm Beach the com­pany started in con­junc­tion with Florida State University.

Stu­dents are in their seats, they’re being taught,” said Dig­i­tal Domain spokes­woman Julie Miller.

Dig­i­tal Domain’s shares con­tin­ued a week-long tum­ble, clos­ing at 55 cents per share, a new 52-week low. At the end of last week, the company’s stock had traded for more than $2 per share. In May, shares fetched $9.20 each.

In mid-August, Dig­i­tal Domain reported it lost $111 mil­lion in the first half of 2012. CEO John Tex­tor resigned this week, amid con­jec­ture and pub­lished reports that the Acad­emy Award-winning Dig­i­tal Domain — which pro­vided spe­cial effects for movies such as “Titanic” and “Trans­form­ers” — might seek bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion from creditors.

Tex­tor said in his res­ig­na­tion letter,

As you are aware, I am in pro­found dis­agree­ment with the deci­sion to close our ani­ma­tion and visual effects stu­dio in the won­der­ful com­mu­nity of Port St. Lucie, Florida. The peo­ple of Florida wel­comed us with open arms and we cer­tainly owed them greater con­sid­er­a­tion. We were able to hire and train local res­i­dents and have them men­tored by the very best of our indus­try. Our incred­i­bly tal­ented artists and film­mak­ers were build­ing some­thing truly spe­cial in Port St. Lucie, not just our favorite first film, The Leg­end of Tembo, but also our first home, Tra­di­tion Stu­dios. I am deeply sad­dened and heart­bro­ken by this decision.

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Paul is an old-timer here at BCDB- his contributions go back to before the site! Paul is widely regarded as a Disney historian, and is also on staff at the Disney Museum in San Francisco. Paul is also a contributing historian for D23, the Disney Club. Paul has published several books and magazine articles on Disney history, too. You are welcome to drop Paul a line here.

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