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.