Mouse wipes cel dry: will shut Fla. toon unit

Some artists invited to transfer to Burbank

HOLLYWOOD — Disney said Monday it will close its Orlando animation unit.

The move — which had been expected and will result in an unspecified number of layoffs — was characterized as the final stage of a restructuring of the Mouse House’s toon operations.

Previous moves include the layoff of hundreds of animators in Burbank over the past few years as well as last year’s closing of toon shops in Paris and Tokyo.

Some Orlando animators were invited to transfer to the studio’s main animation unit in Burbank, where all animation ops are being consolidated.

Best interests

“The Florida studio houses talented artists and staff,” said David Stainton, Mouse’s feature animation prexy. “(But) this difficult decision was based on what is best strategically for our business in both the short and long term. Having the entire animation group working together in Burbank under one roof will further enhance our filmmaking process.”

Shuttering of the Florida facility was anticipated ever since Disney decided to stop work on “A Few Good Ghosts,” a proposed feature toon that was to be produced in Orlando. That left precious little to occupy the facility’s roughly 250 employees.

Some 600 animators currently work in Burbank, a number to be bolstered by some Floridians. The Orlando facility helped produce Mouse pics including “Mulan,” “Lilo & Stitch” and “Brother Bear.”

CGI shift

Disney’s inhouse staff is primarily oriented toward traditional cel animation, but the Mouse intends to boost its ability to perform computer-generated projects internally.

One such project is the recently announced “A Day With Wilbur Robinson,” planned for 2006 (Daily Variety, Jan. 12). Current Burbank projects also include traditional tooner “Chicken Little,” set for a 2005 release.

Execs are in negotiations with Pixar about extending a current co-production relationship with the Northern California animation studio. The current Disney-Pixar pact will expire in 2005.

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