Square USA morphs Honolulu studio shut

'Fantasy' over for CGI shop employees

HONOLULU — Square USA’s 5-year-old Honolulu studio, which developed the $145 million computer-animated film “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within,” is shutting down March 31, putting out of work 125 employees from Japan, Hawaii and the North American continent.

Jun Aida, “Final Fantasy” executive producer and the Hawaii studio’s president, told employees of the shutdown on Monday. The company was spending about $18 million annually to operate the studio, which cost $46 million to create. About 30% of the workers are from Japan, 12% are Hawaii residents and the rest from North America.

“Final Fantasy” has generated only $32 million in ticket sales domestically and $72 million worldwide.

Fruitless search

Since September, Square sought a major U.S. studio to be a partnerthat would manage the film production side of its Honolulu operation, but ran out of time, Aida said. Delays caused by the Sept. 11 attacks and the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays made the situation terminal, he said.

“This was the toughest period to be negotiating a major transaction,” Aida said. “We had some serious interest … but our (deadline) worked against us. The state of the economy caused a lot of people to take a wait-and-see attitude.”

Ultimately, parent Tokyo-based Square Co. wanted an agreement reached “sooner than later,” Aida said.

Time too short

“If I had had another 18 months, maybe the situation would be different,” Aida added.

An early indication of the studio’s problems occurred this month when Square renegotiated its contract with the state of Hawaii for a portion of the Hawaii Film Studio to be leased on a month-by-month basis. The “Man of War” production starring Bruce Willis wants to begin using the Hawaii Film Studio in mid-March.

Since last fall, the Honolulu studio has been working on the Warner Bros. $150 million “Matrix” sequel, producing 10 minutes of computer animation for a promotional trailer, Aida said.