Former Digital Domain Team Seeks to Revive “Tembo”

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The Legend Of Tembo

The Leg­end Of Tembo

Despite being “dev­as­tated” by the sud­den clo­sure of Dig­i­tal Domain Media Group’s new Florida stu­dio, director-producers Chuck Williams and Aaron Blaise are bid­ding for the rights to ani­mated fea­ture The Leg­end of Tembo, a film can­celed when Dig­i­tal Domain went belly-up.

A tale of a pachy­derm taken far from his African home to go to war, The Leg­end of Tembo would have gone into pro­duc­tion in another month. But one day, restruc­tur­ing spe­cial­ists at FTI Con­sult­ing told stu­dio employ­ees who had come to work that they had two hours to grab their things and go.

Williams and Blaise each worked in ani­ma­tion for the Walt Dis­ney Com­pany for 20 years. Williams moved back to his home state to get Dig­i­tal Domain devel­op­ing a stu­dio busi­ness. When he came back to his office, his com­puter was gone.

It was like a hur­ri­cane had blown through and every­thing was ripped out. I had pitches and scripts and all kinds of work on there,” Williams said.

Through a spokesman, FTI declined comment.

Williams and Blaise are in talks with Beijing-based Gal­lop­ing Horse, which joined Reliance Medi­a­Works in pur­chas­ing Dig­i­tal Domain’s special-effects busi­ness for $30.2 mil­lion at a hasty bank­ruptcy auc­tion. Already, Gal­lop­ing Horse has paid $5 mil­lion to develop The Leg­end of Tembo. Williams and Blaise hope that the joint ven­ture will help bring back Dig­i­tal Domain’s ani­mated movie business.

The cre­ative team feels that Gal­lop­ing Horse, which bought most of Dig­i­tal Domain, may also pur­chase its stu­dio busi­ness, too.

We want to make our movie,” said Williams. “One-hundred-twenty peo­ple worked on it for two years. Early tests showed it was fab­u­lous — Dis­ney qual­ity, just like we promised.”

Speak­ing last week in bank­ruptcy court last week, Michael Katzen­stein of FTI belit­tled Dig­i­tal Domain’s attempt to pro­duce ani­mated movies as a mis­take, as the firm had done well mak­ing spe­cial effects for such movies as Titanic for years. He stated that Tembo swal­lowed $13 mil­lion of the company’s funds.

How­ever, Williams and Blaise con­tend, spe­cial effects makes only a small mar­gin of profit, while ani­mated fea­tures are a real money-maker, with 90% of such films get­ting wide release in the United States turn­ing a profit. They said that spend­ing on The Leg­end of Tembo was par for the indus­try, and that a profit from Dig­i­tal Domain’s new stu­dio couldn’t be expected for years.

Accord­ing to Blaise, a major ani­mated fea­ture is nor­mally bud­geted at $80 mil­lion to $100 mil­lion. A good ani­mated movie takes three or four years to pro­duce, with the money not show­ing up until it’s in movie houses, he said.

Added Williams: “This was a good bet.”

We’re sad about what hap­pened. It’s really hor­rific,” Williams con­tin­ued. “But we’re excited about what could hap­pen now.”

[Via Dow Jones/Wall Street Jour­nal blogs.wsj.com/bankruptcy/2012/09/26/digital-domains-creative-leaders-hit-the-comeback-trail/]

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