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.”