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Jim Hill on the official closing of Walt Disney Animation in Florida, Roy Disney's efforts & Legacy Animation Studios!

Hey folks, Harry here with the latest from our good friend, Jim Hill regarding the tragically depressing land of Walt Disney Feature Animation. He's got updates regarding Roy Disney and Stanley Gold's crusade to Save Disney, along with a much more revealing look at what is happening with this exciting group of Disney Animators that are determined to save Walt's legacy with LEGACY ANIMATION STUDIOS. Here ya go...

This is the day that Disney does it, Harry. Finally & officially pulls the plug on Feature Animation Florida. Shutting down a studio that has produced out not one, not two, but three hit films for the Disney Company – “Mulan,” “Lilo & Stitch” and “Brother Bear” – all in a row. At 2/3rds of what it costs Mickey to make similar animated movies back in Burbank.

So today’s the day that the Mouse kicks 250 talented artists & technicians to the curb. Walk away from that virtually brand-new $70 million dollar state-of-the-art studio complex. All because Disney Feature Animation is supposedly regrouping in the not-so-distant future. Making one last desperate stand in Burbank. Replicating what WDFA had in the mid-to-late 1980s: Which was all of the company’s very best animators under one roof again, working together on a single film (Putting all of Mickey’s eggs in one basket, if you will). With the hope that – if this talented group can just pull together – Disney Feature Animation will once again be able to find its way back to greatness.

At least that’s what Disney’s PR staff is telling the entertainment & financial press. The sad fact of the matter is, Harry, that – due to all the WDFA staff cuts over the past five years as well as all the key people that Disney let slip away – there isn’t all that much of Disney Feature Animation left to save.

How bad has it gotten, Knowles? Well, let me tell you about a project that the Imagineers are prepping for the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, Harry. It’s an attraction called “Stitch’s Great Escape,” which is sort of a prequel to Disney’s 2002 release, “Lilo & Stitch.”

Anyway, this Tomorrowland-based show – which will be replacing “The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter” – needed a few minutes of new traditionally animated footage featuring characters from “Lilo & Stitch.” You know, for the attraction’s pre-show as well as to supplement the action in the show’s main theater. So – a week or so ago -- WDI approached WDFA and asked them if they’d be interested in producing the animation portion of this project.

And the folks at Disney Feature Animation were reportedly forced to say: “Gee, I’m sorry. We’re going to have to take a pass on doing the animation for ‘Stitch’s Great Escape.’ “Not because they were too busy with some other project, Harry. But because the knuckleheads who are now in charge of Disney Feature Animation had fired all the people who actually knew how to do traditional animation. So apparently there was no one left in the building (at least out in Burbank) who could now replicate “Lilo & Stitch” ‘s distinctive hand-drawn style.

Which was why Walt Disney Imagineering was forced to look elsewhere to find people who could provide the necessary traditional-looking, hand-drawn animation footage for WDW’s “Stitch’s Great Escape” show. Luckily, a company called Renegade Animation (You can sample some of that studio’s handiwork by following this link, Knowles: RenegadeAnimation ) was up to the task. Even if WDFA wasn’t.

It’s really a shame that WDI didn’t talk with me when they were looking for people to work on the animated sequences for “Stitch’s Great Escape,” Harry. For I could have pointed them toward this great new animation studio. One that’s staffed by guys who actually worked on the original “Lilo & Stitch” movie: Legacy Animation Studio.

Yes, I know, Knowles. You already told AICN readers about Legacy back on Saturday, (Insert link to here). About how this studio was actually started up by a bunch of Feature Animation Florida staffers. Who are determined to keep the art of traditional animation alive (hence the name “Legacy”), while Disney seems determined to turn itself into some sort of Pixar clone.

But what you may not have heard, Harry, is that the team behind Legacy Animation are a pretty web-savvy bunch of guys. The studio’s website – Legacy Animation – just went live last week. And – in the weeks ahead – Eddie Pittman, directing manager of the studio & his team at Legacy are going to try & do something real extraordinary, Knowles. Which is give Internet-based animation fans a front row seat for the creation of the studio’s first project: a new traditionally animated short subject.

Here’s how the deal’s supposed to go down, Harry: Over the next week or so, Pittman & his team will be reviewing pitches for this proposed short. Once they’ve selected the characters & the core concept for the film, Legacy will then begin keeping a blog that covers the short’s entire production. So – for the first time (on the internet, anyway) – animation fans will be able to follow all of the phases of this labor-intensive process. See a short go from storyboards to rough animation to … Well, when Eddie takes the short out on the festival circuit and shows the world what Legacy Animation is really capable of doing.

You see, Eddie & his team of 15 artists (I know, I know. That sounds sort of small. But there are a dozen or more former WDFAF employees who are quite anxious to get on board at Legacy. They’re just waiting ‘til the Winter Garden-based studio officially begins to ramp up production before they pick up their pencils) eventually hope to make a full length traditionally animated feature. This short (which will be hammered together in an extremely intense 20-week-long production schedule) is supposed to serve as their calling card. A film done in the old Warner Brothers / Early Disney cartoon shorts tradition. To show potential investors the sorts of film Legacy Animation is capable of making.

Of course, the current buzz around Burbank is “Wouldn’t it be awfully embarrassing for Michael Eisner if – on the eve of Disney Feature Animation – Florida’s closing – Roy Disney announced that he was bankrolling Legacy Animation? To show Michael that even if he was willing to abandon Walt’s legacy, Roy was not.”

Well, to my knowledge, Roy Disney has no plans (at present) to get in bed with the folks over at Legacy Animation Studio. Not that Roy Disney & Stanley Gold would be interested in what Eddie Pittman & Co. are trying to do, mind you. But – as of this moment – Roy & Stanley have bigger fish. They’re still hot on Michael’s heels, still determined to do everything that they have to in order for their “Oust Eisner” campaign to succeed.

Speaking of which: A bold new version of Stanley & Roy’s website – SaveDisney.Com – is scheduled to debut late today or early tomorrow. So keep an eye open for that.

And Walt’s nephew will also be stepping up his public appearance schedule over the next few weeks. For example – this coming weekend – Roy will be meeting with the Disney faithful at the N.F.F.C.’s “January Kick-Off” event in Garden Grove, CA. So if you’ve got a question that you’d like Roy to answer and/or you’d just like to show your support for what Roy & Stanley are trying to do, make your way to the Crown Plaza Resort this coming Saturday afternoon. (For further information of the N.F.F.C. event, follow this link: Click Here .)

“So what’s Mr. Eisner got to say about all this?,” you ask, Harry. “The closure of Feature Animation Florida? The opening of Legacy Animation Studio? Roy & Stanley’s on-going efforts to oust him?” To be honest, Knowles, Eisner hasn’t said a word about any of these subject. In public, anyway.

Last week, at his appearance at the Smith Barney media conference in Phoenix, Michael painted a particularly rosy picture of Disney’s financial future for all the investment analysts in attendance. He stressed how things were going just great at the Walt Disney Company. How there had been record crowds at all of Disney’s Florida theme parks over the holidays.

Of course, the crowds who walked through the “Magic of Disney Animation” exhibit at Disney-MGM must have wondered what was up. Looking out on row after row of empty animation desks, wondering where all the artists were.

Of course, given that the last project that Disney Feature Animation Florida was supposed have worked on was to be called “A Few Good Ghosts,” it’s rather ironic that this studio is now a ghost town. (HARRY NOTE: I'll have you know that the Disney Feature Animation's Magic of Disney Animation exhibit looks nothing like GHOST TOWN) With so many of its talented staffers leaving Orlando to work for other animation studios: CORE Digital in Canada, Blue Sky in New York, Pixar & Dreamworks in California. And – of course – the crew over at Legacy Animation in Winter Garden, FL.

It’s such a waste, Harry, that this talented team had to be broken up. The people who brought us those brilliant shorts like “Roller Coaster Rabbit,” “Trail Mix-Up,” “Off His Rocker” & “Oilspot & Lipstick.” Who contributed outstanding sequences to such beloved Disney classics as “Kill the Beast” in 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast” and “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” in 1994’s “The Lion King.” As well as that studio’s previously mentioned trio of blockbusters: “Mulan,” “Lilo & Stitch” and “Brother Bear.”

Yeah, Disney doesn’t need a bunch of no-talents like this, Knowles. Why hang on to people who produced all of the animated films that I just mentioned? It’s not like the Walt Disney Company has this long tradition of turning out well-crafted traditionally animated films … Oh, wait a minute. It does, doesn’t it, Harry?

I now ask that the entire AICN family join me in a brief moment of silence for the passing of a proud 67-year-old tradition. The death of the traditionally animated feature film. At least at the Walt Disney Company.

Ah, this is just too depressing for me to even think about, Knowles. I promise that I’ll be back in a week or so with more news about Roy & Stanley’s efforts to oust Eisner. But – for now – I gotta go make some phone calls. I gotta go commiserate with some friends in Orlando about how the Walt Disney Company just made another totally bone-headed decision.

Talk with you soon, Harry. Please give my best to your Dad.


Meanwhile, LEGACY ANIMATION STUDIOS sent me the following Press Release soon after the story I ran went up, and I figured, it would be quite apt to tack it on here with Jim Hill's wonderful column! Here ya go...

Continuing Walt's Legacy

ORLANDO, FLORIDA (January 8, 2004) - Legacy Animation Studios, a new animation production studio in Orlando Florida, opens its doors in Winter Garden, Florida close to Orlando later this month. The studio will offer a full-range of traditional hand drawn (or 2D) animation services for film, television and commercials. Legacy was established by a group of animators and artists formerly employed by Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida. Legacy will also be dedicated to developing original properties for television and film. In time the studio hopes to produce its first feature film project.

"We believe that traditionally animated films are still a viable form of entertainment," says Legacy Animation Studios Directing Manager, Eddie Pittman. "Our goal is to create quality animated films with compelling stories and strong characters and to continue Walt Disney's legacy of hand drawn animation."

The Legacy team has the talent to back up their claim, with the combined experience of over 25 animated films including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Mulan and Lilo and Stitch. Directing Manager, Eddie Pittman is a cartoonist and illustrator with over fifteen years of professional experience. He has worked on such animated features as Mulan, Tarzan, Fantasia 2000, The Emperor's New Groove and Lilo and Stitch. Eddie has taught for the renowned Computer Animation program at Ringling School of Art and Design and his popular drawing classes taught around Central Florida have been recommended to aspiring animators by Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida, Artist Development. Recently, Eddie produced and directed Legends of the Night Sky: Orion, the world's first full dome (360°) traditionally animated movie.

Also joining the management team as Creative Director is veteran assistant animator David Nethery. David has nearly 20 years of experience as an animation artist, most of those years at Walt Disney Feature Animation. He has been the Lead Key Assistant on such characters as "Meeko" the raccoon from Pocahontas, "Mushu" from Mulan, "Cobra Bubbles" from Lilo & Stitch, and most recently "Tug" and "Koda's Mom" from Brother Bear. Other credits at Disney include The Lion King, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Legacy currently has three projects in development including a short film that will begin production in late January 2004 .


Meanwhile, to off-set the big gobs of bad news, Disney is announcing a computer animated feature film version of A DAY WITH WILBUR ROBINSON based upon William Joyce's book of the same name. According to HollywoodReporter, Disney is planning to start animation in June for release in 2006. I've seen the book described as a bit of a cross between The Jetsons and the Addams Family. Although the book doesn't seem to have much of a plot. Hmmm, sounds just right for Disney.

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