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Topic: Disney considers shutting down Orlando studio!, Will all traditional Disney animation go< Next Oldest | Next Newest >

Goofyteer Offline

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Posted: Nov. 10, 2003 9:12 am/pm Quote

Quote (CarolKoster @ Nov. 10, 2003 1:18 am/pm)
Will someone brew a pot of coffee and send it to Disney with an alarm clock, so they can literally wake up and smell the coffee on this point?

I volunteer.  :eyebrow:

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RichKoster Offline

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Posted: Nov. 10, 2003 9:49 am/pm Quote

Okay, here's the coffee maker: :coffeemaker:

And here's the coffee, all ready. You can pass the cups around to all those at Disney who need to start waking up, Chris. ;)
:coffee: :coffee: :coffee: :coffee: :coffee: :coffee: :coffee: :coffee:
It's only an 8-cup coffeemaker, so we'll have to make more later.


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RichKoster Offline

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Posted: Nov. 11, 2003 8:56 am/pm Quote

There's a good article about what's going on at Disney with the changes from traditional animation to 3D CGI you might enjoy over at JimHillMedia.com written by an industry insider.

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RichKoster Offline

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Posted: Nov. 19, 2003 11:33 am/pm Quote

Disney Considers Shutting Orlando Animation Studio

Dow Jones Business News says The Walt Disney Co. is weighing whether to shut down its Orlando, Florida animation studio after pulling the plug on "A Few Good Ghosts," the only film in production there. It is a move that could cut more than 250 jobs from a Disney animation staff that has already been dramatically downsized, Monday's Wall Street Journal reported.

Full details.
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CarolKoster Offline

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Posted: Nov. 22, 2003 9:17 am/pm Quote

Interesting reading at Jim Hill Media, a site where the owner and some others post mostly Disney journalism and other features.  Scroll on the opening screen or click on the Archives for a November 21, 2003 article titled "Why Disney Really Gave Up The Ghosts", Jim Hill looking into just what seems to be going on at Disney regarding the possible future of the Florida animation studio.  The caveat is I don't know nor can I vouch for how much of this article is true or not.  But read it over, definitely.  Then at the end of the article click on the option to discuss it.  It will not mean you are about to post by clicking this, it simply takes you to the specific discussion area for that article.  Then read what's posted!  

There are several complex ideas to take into consideration after reading that article and the discussion forum after it.  Disney fans, I think, invest their emotions into their enjoyment of Disney entertainment product.  Disney fans to some extent want Disney to be a museum and to crank out consistency of some of its content time after time after time.  "Don't ever change!  Don't fix what's not broken!"  And of course in the 1990s the whole world so to speak took advantage of the booming economy and expanded like crazy.  Then when the economy tanked in 2000 and stayed tanked after 9/11 and the wars and all these same companies found their rear ends had been bitten and it was survival time in aggressive ways.  

Read the article and discussion I referred to above so that my comments on it are in that context.

Michael Eisner and Frank Wells were brought in from outside the Walt Disney company in 1984 by Roy Disney (Roy Disney's son, Walt's nephew) to save the company from hostile takeover.  It's all there in a great book, now out of print, called "Storming the Magic Kingdom".  "Storming" is about the hostile takeover attempts in the mid-1980s and how the current management got put into place.  It's not a pixie-dust book, but it should be essential reading for Disney fans to understand the basis for the modern era of where the company came from and how it got to be today's corporation.  Try the public library for it.  Anyway, the circumstances for Michael Eisner, Frank Wells and Jeffery Katzenberg to be with Disney were significant enough that it provided the inspiration for what Eisner has done since then, namely to grow the company in such a way that a takeover couldn't happen again.

Roy Disney (Roy's son, Walt's nephew) was concerned about the Feature Animation department.  Eisner wanted to do away with it.  Roy Disney said he'd take it over.  Jeffrey Katzenberg was put in charge of it.  Frank Wells as #2 at Disney was there to be the Wall Street person in management while Michael Eisner is the one with the Hollywood contacts.  Frank Wells died in a helicopter crash in 1994 just before The Lion King came out in theatres.  Katzenberg in the aftermath wanted Wells' job, Eisner refused, so Katzenberg left and with others helped found Dreamworks.  Roy Disney stayed and others took over the helm at Feature Animation over the years.  Of course in recent years Roy Disney has had differences with Michael Eisner about the Board of Directors of the Walt Disney Company, and Roy's place and responsibilities on the Board have diminished in recent years.  Earlier this year Roy sold a lot of shares of his Disney stock to invest the money elsewhere.  Among other news items, comes this in the Wall Street Journal about the possible closure of the Florida animation studio.  A lot of this past history can be found in other business-type books about Disney, check bookstores or the public library for titles, or do Internet serches for the Disney news of the recent past.

Something someone mentioned on Jim Hill's discussion boards about his article struck me.  One of the posts discusses the possibility that over-expansion in the '90s to produce an annual feature animation product is coming home to roost with Disney in that the goal can't be met with costs escalating, tastes changing, competition mounting, technology changing and the trend to export such jobs to studios overseas.  In this light, "It's a museum, don't change it" cannot work in the marketplace.  On the other hand the argument could be made that "Gee, Disney was short-sighted to have created the Florida animation studio in the first place."  True, but the counter-argument is that a lot of corporations, not just Disney, had a mindset that the go-go '90s boom would never end and that they were investing in the future by expanding so much and when the economy tanked and costs and tastes and technology changed they all got caught with difficulty in maintaining what they had built up.  So that few in the '90s, corporation-wise, had any long-term sense.  

Now that the 1990s are over, it seems clear that a lot of Disney's expansions were bad ideas and ended up diluting the brand and exhausting audiences.  Disney, I hope, is realizing what it's done and is trying to position itself to create quality product again to woo back audiences.  And that difficult admission might have to be done at the expense of jobs and entire sections of departments.  I'd prefer that Disney find a better way to make Feature Animation work for them.  It's the content that matters, not the bells and whistles and steak sizzle.  I would hope that the powers that be reconsider their decision.  But the truth is Disney and other companies that are publicly traded have to answer to investors and the marketplace and do what they need to do to find the level of public acceptance and growth again.

I don't think Eisner wants to sell off or merge the Disney company to protect his legacy or as a means of perpetuating the brand.  How Eisney got into his CEO position is well known among investors and on Wall Street.  However, I do think Eisner has done serious misstepping in the past.  Some of what's happening now may be attempts to right some of that and realign the Disney company to the marketplace of today and the foreseeable future in the entertainment industry.  

As to whether the folks at Florida Feature Animation were lied to:  I would agree that news of possible closure of the facility would be volatile to the staff as well as to investors.  These days publicly traded companies, not just Disney, do seem to "kiss up" to the investment community very much, but the way the stock markets are so volatile on any news can send a stock spinning and casual investors and stock commentators misconstruing.  And frankly employers today are scared of employees who are terminated might "go postal" (engage in reactionary violence in retaliation against employers).  This same sort of mixed message internally at work happened to us the year after Rich and I got married.  Employer told the department where Rich worked at the time X about the future of the department, then a month later pink slips went out to everyone in that department that the department was being discontinued in favor of the employer going in Y direction instead.  Came out of the blue.  We relied on the original assurances and were shocked, and this came just before Christmas that year.  That was in 1981.  The same things are still going on today.  

But just because Walt Disney Animation has existed since before 1928 and Mickey Mouse and Steamboat Wille doesn't mean it's stable there.  It's like a swan or a duck on the water:  Placid on top, paddling like heck underneath.  In Walt's day he invested in his people so they would retain and he offered them greater more challenging work.  Wasn't perfect, but look at what Walt generally was able to accomplish.  Today professionals in the movie and animation fields live a nomadic contract-to-contract, project-to-project sort of career.  In a lot of professions, not just entertainment or animation, there is no longer any such thing as job security.  Job experts who write articles say you have to be prepared to have more than one employer in your working lifetime, sometimes, and develop more than one skill or varied experiences.  So that Walt Disney Animation has existed since before 1928 doesn't mean that today WDA is exempt from that trend.  It's not humane.  But it's "business", as was said in The Godfather, maybe an unfortunate analogy there ( oops, sorry! ) but you get the point.  

I just wish Disney would rediscover its core businesses, stop diluting themselves, stop the theme parks all over the world and now all over the Far East, and refocus on what made them endure and successful in the first place.  Not all Walt's management ways have to be relegated to the dust bin or trash heap, some are still effective and can be adapted for today's marketplace.  If you over-expand you can't maintain, it's that simple.  And there's got to be some corporate conscience or compassion in the marketplace to keep the "heart" in not only a multi-national corporation but one that also perpetuates several long standing multi-generational cultural icons and ideas, such as Disney has.  

Jim Hill wrote a good thought-provoking article.  I just hope things don't necessarily come to pass as reported in that article.  But then Disney's a corporation in an ever-changing world and marketplace with ever-changing techology, not a museum.  But it's core values and businesses however are worth preserving, bringing past management philosophies and principles harmoniously in the modern era.  It can be done.

What do you think about the article or what's happening?  There's no "right" or "wrong" answers, just various opinions which are valid for who holds those opinions.  Post respectfully and with due consideration for others, but really, what do you think?


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RichKoster Offline

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Posted: Nov. 22, 2003 10:40 am/pm Quote

Quote
Of course in recent years Roy Disney has had differences with Michael Eisner about the Board of Directors of the Walt Disney Company, and Roy's place and responsibilities on the Board have diminished in recent years.  Earlier this year Roy sold a lot of shares of his Disney stock to invest the money elsewhere.  Among other news items, comes this in the Wall Street Journal about the possible closure of the Florida animation studio.


Now it is obvious to us looking back: Disney management knew for a long time (much earlier this year, at least) that it would close the animation studio at Disney-MGM Studios at WDW but kept it a secret. I'm assuming the head honchos, Roy Disney included, were aware of the decision -- and I bet given Roy's background and past performance at the company that he was against this idea. I am speculating here, but I think Roy's decision to sell all those shares of Disney stock earlier this year was due to the decision by others to lay off all of the Florida animation staff and close that studio. He probably protested that action and made as many arguments against it that he could, but was over-ruled. You can look at his history of standing up for the animators and trying to protect Disney's long history of Disney animation -- including having it continue -- as his track record in this, which it what I'm basing my speculation on.

If so, when he realized he was being over-ruled in that matter, it is probably one of the things which led to his decision to sell so much of his Disney stock. Whether it was as a protest to that decision by others to close the Florida studio -- or from a business decision that he felt Wall Street would not like the news of Disney closing the studio and thus the price of his stock would dramatically fall -- that is beyond our knowing.

But when you go back at what has happened this year (the decision to open Brother Bear on a Saturday rather than giving it a full opening weekend, the changing of the animation tour at D-MGM to be more like the animation exhibit at Disney's California Adventure with less emphasis on actual Disney animators, Roy's selling of so much Disney stock, the closing down of Disney animation studios elsewhere around the world -- at the Disneyland Paris Resort, Canada, Australia, and Japan) in retrospect it all seems to add up.
:uhoh:  :unhappy:


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CarolKoster Offline

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Posted: Nov. 22, 2003 4:27 am/pm Quote

Well, I'll place my bets and stick to my guns that the Disney company is not being placed for sale or any of its major divisions to be split off.  If there's any division that ought to be sold that is truly dragging the company down it's the ABC broadcast network, unless Disney can hire some best and brightest human to come aboard over there to program it to reach hit status.  But from where I sit (all strictly speculation, guessing and armchair quarterbacking) my guess is that Disney Feature Animation is going through internal reorganization, downsizing and repurposing.  And those of us in the corporate world who've been through this at the workplace know just how painful that can be.  

In the Jim Hill article Jim interviews a "Wall Street analyst" who gives Jim an opinion as to what is going on.  Well, it could mean what Jim quoted the analyst as saying.  I happen to watch CNBC on cable frequently, the stock market channel, and one thing I've long ago learned there is that there is a "Wall Street analyst" to support every opinion under the sun.  For every analyst that Jim Hill can find to support a theory or storyline, there is very likely another one with an entirely different take on the matter.  And nobody, not even Wall Street or Disney media pundits, knows for sure except those internally at Disney in high up management.

With that said:  I think the economy since the recession began in 2000 has taken a long time to rebound, but it finally is.  Predictions over the past several months for a rebound in "the next one or two quarters" have just taken a very long time to materialize because it couldn't be predicted that 9/11 or global tourism decrease or two wars on terrorism would happen, or that corporate scandals would cause companies to undergo such scrutiny and internal change.  Under such circumstances it's hard for a company to adjust to a newer lower cash flow, to predict future cash flow, or make capital plans or expansion plans when uncertainty persists.  Quite a few fiscal quarters ago Disney corporate took a hard look at what its various divisions and sub-divisions do and how much all that costs vs. profits realized.  They likely looked at their markets.  They definitely took into account harsh criticism of CEO Michael Eisner about a year to a year and a half ago, calling for Eisner's head on a proverbial platter because the share price of Disney stock was plummeting vs. what Eisner's compensation package was and the perceived schlock product and services Disney was putting on the marketplace, at that time.  Stinging from "Treasure Planet" doing so badly at the box office a year ago and the intense criticism, I think Michael Eisner finally woke up one day and decided to prevent his head from being placed on the platter.  So, in short, Michael Eisner is finally working for a living.  If you look at a Disney stock chart, and the quarterly results posted on November 20, the company seems to be turning around and doing better.  

However, decisions made at corporate many months ago are still on the implementation road.  That may include Disney Feature Animation in Florida being closed after all.  The facility served its purpose with "Mulan", animated shorts and some other feature movies.  But with Pixar doing Disney movies better than Disney does them, Dreamworks "Shrek" and Fox's "Ice Age" providing serious challenges in the marketplace and to Disney's former supremacy in feature animation, and Viacom's Nickelodeon and Time-Warner's Cartoon Network capable of home video, movie theatre and cable TV cartoon product that successfully challenges Disney...with shareholders likely still not thoroughly happy with Disney, and Disney fans obviously abandoning the company in favor of other fare...  I think Disney sees the tough luck handwriting on the wall, realizes it can no longer rest on it's brand name as a slam dunk in customer loyalty, and is consolodating, downsizing, reorganizing and repurposing itself for a new era for itself in the marketplace.  

Disney will continue to make family oriented animated product.  But it may no longer need for as many studios of itself worldwide to turn out the same amount or quality of product.  With techology maybe it takes fewer workers nowadays to churn it it out.  Why do "lavish" when made-for-video and TV animation quality will do?  "Lavish" might be turning out feature animation product, such as what we've come to know each summer or year-end, every 18 months or so in alternation with Pixar's stuff under a new Pixar contract.  In a worldwide market, with Disney recent announcements and hirings and management promotions clearly lately being to increase marketshare in its global brand, TV animation quality and direct-to-video quality might be just good enough to expand into global markets.  And maybe under a new contract with Pixar, Disney and Pixar might agree to space out their respective feature-length high-quality animated films away from each other.  That would grant each more time to make money in the marketplace with their respective releases, get them away from each other so they don't compete with each other, and allow Disney some breathing room to do feature animation less rushed, more time and quality attention paid to it, and to market it more effectively.  

Think about it.  When Disney moved the premiere of "The Alamo" away from December 25, 2003 to April 9, 2004, it was because they couldn't do quality post-production work on that short of a deadline after principle photography and production ended in June 2003, it was just too soon and too rushed.  Port that notion to Feature Animation and perhaps the answer may be that the pressure to put out so much animation product and be high quality, internally at Disney, as well as market forces beyond Disney's control, increased competition and the cost-savings of technology simply combined so that the "sacred cow" of Feature Animation could be seen differently.  Feature Animation is very likely being preserved.  But in forms and in technologies and in contractual ways so as to acknowledge Pixar's partnership and to realistically allocate resources and technology to doing a good job rather than a mediocre job.  

Think back to a year ago and how amazing it was that "Treasure Planet" didn't do well at the box office, and how Michael Eisner actually spoke publically about that just days after TP had opened, thus sabotaging his own studio's product?  Think back how "Tarzan" and "Lilo and Stitch" were the last huge hits Disney Feature Animation had, and how "Emperor's New Groove", "Atlantis" and "Treasure Planet" just didn't completely win over their audiences.  And think how the criticism of Eisner, just that alone, may be a spark to trying to answer the critics of him and respond to making positive changes in the face of the contract with Pixar and changing domestic and world markets.  In taking the pressure off Feature Animation, acknowledging Pixar, and retooling to accept new technology and reach a new global marketplace, Eisner's probably doing what he has to do, despite the howls of pain from those affected.

It's not that I'm an Eisner-hugger, nor am I condoning or applauding what he may be up to here.  I do think Michael Eisner will let go of being CEO of Disney when he is very elderly and needs to retire, or so ill that he needs to step down, or when he's still CEO and dies while in office.  He won't go easily and he's not a quitter.  Whether that's good or bad, I don't know.  But the criticism of him by his own Board of Director members and stockholders and from Wall Street, the corporate scandals and scrutiny such as with Enron and Worldcom, and how the economy has made Disney stock dip woke him up.  He takes the Disney audience more seriously and less for granted nowadays.  In that, he sees that Feature Animation could be better than it is, more streamlined maybe and more up to date.  It has to play out.  Whether Roy Disney, Roy's son and Walt's nephew, had disagreements with Eisner how the internal Feature Animation changes should be brought about or what changes should be made, etc., that is still perhaps a likely explanation of why Roy sold his stock block.    

I still will keep some virtual candles lit for Disney's Florida Feature Animation studio staff.  If "the powers that be" could have been less short-sighted and more careful of their stewardship, more not ever taking their audiences for granted, more "competitive" with Pixar, Dreamworks and Fox with feature length animation, I think the closing of the Florida animation department could have been avoided.   But it's all out of my hands and all I can do is armchair quarterback and hope for the best for all of them.  Here are my candles burning for them, ignore the cake part of it.:

:birthdaycake:

What do any of you think?  Post it here.


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Posted: Nov. 23, 2003 9:39 am/pm Quote

The closure of the Florida studio is saddening -- after hearing rumors for years I never fully believed that it was actually happening.

Last friday I got some cold confirmation -- I heard that one of my former classmates was returning home (Toronto) to look for work. He was the first member of my class to go to the Florida studios -- to work on Pocahontas.

I'm looking forward to seeing, and possibly working with him again -- and any of the others on their way back north. Too bad it has to be because of this.
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Posted: Nov. 23, 2003 10:00 am/pm Quote

Officially the Disney word is management is only "considering" closing the Florida studio (implying it's not a done deal yet) .  But you know how press release-speak can go.  Letters to Disney might help:  To Michael Eisner, the head of Feature Animation, to Roy Disney Jr., to the Board of Directors.  At least it's doing something positive to support the folks over there.

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