One studio closing is another’s grand opening. Firefly Animation Studios, based out of offices on the Universal Studios Florida back lot, has opened on the heels of Disney’s shuttering of its Florida animation studio, with a core group of seasoned Disney character animators at the helm.

“This has been a dream of ours for a long time,” said co-founder and prexy Dominic Carola. “We’re grateful to Disney for the training and experience we had there. They honed our gifts as animators and skilled artisans, which prepared us for this tremendous opportunity.”

Transition was made easier when Walt Disney Feature Animation cooperated in Project Firefly’s acquisition of Disney equipment and furniture. The startup continues its positive relationship with Disney.

Meanwhile, “We welcome this talented team as part of our on-lot vendor family,” stated Paul Meena, VP-general manager of the Universal Studios Florida Production Group.

Project Firefly, with a current slate of original theatrical and video release projects in development, will draw on the collective experience of more than 50 years among its founders and plans to produce family-friendly animated content, embracing both traditional 2-D animation as well as 3-D technology.

Firefly founders dug deep into their own pockets, including mortgaging their homes, to provide startup financing for the studio. Since that time, the studio has secured outsourcing projects from such companies as DisneyToon Studios and Chili Pictures and completed work for Curious Pictures and Chuck Gammage Studios.

“Even before Project Firefly was officially announced, we were approached by some significant individuals in the animation industry,” said Carola. “We are excited by the interest and look forward to building on those relationships.”

Industry interest in Project Firefly can be tracked to its talent pool. Co-founders Paula Alvarado, Gregg Azzopardi, Carola and John Webber have more than 10 years of animating experience each. Glen Gagnon, also a co-founder, brings more than 15 years in both film and television production finance and strategic planning. Overall credits include films such as “The Lion King,” “Lilo and Stitch,” “Hercules,” “Tarzan” and “Brother Bear.”

“Due to the financial benefits, outsourcing has become more prevalent in the animation industry,” said Gagnon, who serves as director of business development and finance for Project Firefly.

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California film production is on the rebound. Feature films and commercial production on state property increased a substantial 48% in the first half of 2004, with June registering a 51% boost from 2003.

Since 1997, the California Film Commission has issued an average of 1,784 permits per year. The most frequent users of the commission’s services have been still photographers (35%), followed by TV (23%), student films (17%), features (13%), commercials (11%) and musicvideos (3%).

From January to June, commercial production days have climbed 14%.