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Digital Domain Deal Is Target of Major Florida Lawsuit (Updated)

UPDATE (JULY 22, 2014): Today we briefly interviewed John Textor, who was concerned about some of the characterizations in the original piece. Cartoon Brew expresses regret about any inadvertent inaccuracies in the story. The piece below has been updated to accurately reflect the facts in Florida State’s legal actions against Digital Domain. Textor has also agreed to be interviewed by Cartoon Brew at a later date about his role at Digital Domain.

The actions of Digital Domain, led by disgraced former CEO John Textor, will become the subject of a lawsuit by the state of Florida. Textor, as you may recall from our coverage a few years back, was the ringleader of a fiasco that ruined hundreds of lives, used $130 million dollars of Florida taxpayer funds, and tried to force animation students into questionable labor arrangements.

UPDATE: Florida State Files Lawsuit; Alleges Digital Domain Cheated Taxpayers Out of $80 Million

Florida governor Rick Scott, has appointed outside legal counsel led by litigator Bill Scherer to investigate why their state gave Digital Domain more than a hundred million dollars in public funds. For that amount, Textor had promised to open up a school called the Digital Domain Institute, and to create a new film studio, Tradition, to produce high-end animated films.

While both of those projects happened, Digital Domain Institute never graduated any students and the studio never made a film. By the time of Digital Domain’s spectacular collapse in 2012, the only thing Digital Domain had accomplished was creating the biggest job-incentive-program flop in Florida state history.

John Textor was the former CEO of Digital Domain.

The goal of the new investigation is “to identify any and all legal action available against the company and any other individuals involved in wrongdoing related to this bad deal,” according to the governor’s general counsel Peter Antonacci. The State expects to announce legal action in the coming weeks.

The case won’t be an easy one. While the state’s general counsel claims that “the usual state regulatory processes were circumvented to give Digital Domain tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds,” a 2013 state report (read it HERE) concluded that there were “no apparent violations of law, rule, or regulation in the award” of economic development incentive funds received by Digital Domain.

“It sounds like the Governor hasn’t read his own report,” Textor said about the new investigation. “The State IG Report clearly states that Digital Domain was fully vetted by Enterprise Florida and the Legislative Budget Commission, and properly approved for funding. Given the timing, this is clearly an election ploy targeted at the Crist administration.”

To lear more about Textor’s mismanagement of Digital Domain, read these Miami New Times and FXGuide pieces.

  • I honestly don’t know or see a real conclusion to the aftermath John Textor has caused. While his actions are being investigated, I still wonder of the people he ruined and how they regained their footing for work and for their families.

    While I would want nothing more than to see Textor pay his dues to what he did to many people, at the end of the day, he’s not the only one who has been screwing animators and artists with what just happened, and he certainly is not the last. We have Ed Catmull, John Lasseter, and Jeffrey Katzenberg to thank for that as well, just in their own way of working puppet strings.

    • Ryoku240

      Along with the lack of protection for animators, dunno if theres a union for them or not, but it seems like theres little authority defense for the animators when they get goofed.

  • animatorunite

    I find it interesting how John Textor gets such completely different treatment to the Pixar/Disney team in the Wage Fixing Cartel. Very interesting indeed…

    • Jackadullboy

      In what sense is he getting different treatment? I think it’s generally accepted that his behaviour has been contemptible.

    • KW

      Different, how so?

    • Luke

      It’s funny what happens when someone is up for reelection.

  • Mathias

    Come on guys. Don’t be so hateful. He needed new golf clubs. Geez.

  • Jack Rabbit

    “Textor remains cocky about the situation, thanks in part to ….” Aint that quite a set of Textor-cles he got?!?!?

  • Robert Holmén

    This is hysterical. Gov Rick Scott is is concerned about $130 million in fraud? That’s small change compared to what happened when he was running Columbia/HCA in Florida…

  • Pedro Nakama

    I heard his one request was, “Can I share a cell with Ed Catmull?”

  • Sunny place, Shady people

    Its about time. Roast this scumbag. Where’s he been “working” since the Tradition Studio demise?
    Sadly, I doubt anything will happen to him. Florida is even more pathetic and disorganized than the Los Angeles Animation Guild, so I wouldn’t expect much.

    • D. Harry

      He’s about to get burned over the 3d Michael Jackson fiasco, where he was caught red handed in a lie to authorities. He’s going down from one or both of these incidents – I’m guessing.

      • Sunny place, Shady people

        Haven’t heard about that scandal… Any details to share?

  • Aaron Blaise

    John Textor hired me when I left Disney and came in to help head up creative and create animated films back here in Florida, my home state. I have to say that I believed in his vision and we were on track to creating an exceptional film in “The Legend of Tembo”. We had a wonderful crew…120 strong and growing on Tembo. Financially, as a production we were on track. I know his heart was in the right place with trying to keep jobs here in this country. There was NO free labor on Tembo. The studio went bankrupt for several reasons, one of the largest being the hedge fund that drove the stock into the dirt.

    After the loss of our film and my job I was devistated, but I decided to stay here in Florida and make a go of it on my own. During that time John came to me with his vision for “…rebuilding and trying to keep his promise to the state and city.” His words, not mine. I believed in his vision once again and have come back on board to help develop a new studio. At the end of the day, I want to create animated films and I want to do it here in Florida. We have an incredible uphill battle in front of us, I know, but like I said, I believe in the vision of what we want to do here so I’m willing to take the plunge again. I love what I do, and John is helping me find the means to do it.

    • mick

      Fair enough but I think a lot of people will remember his speech in which he referred to using paying students to make his product. I’m not sure but I think his phrase wasn’t too far from ‘they pay to work for us’

    • D. Harry

      How does Art story fit into this?

    • nburch

      I got the opportunity to visit the DD studio during the production of “Tembo” and was blown away by the quality and passion of Aaron and his team. It really is a tragedy that it all ended up the way it did. I knew many of those that lost their jobs and it was a really hard and emotional time for EVERYONE involved.

      I have since had an opportunity to reconnect with Aaron and get to know John over the past few months and see some of the vision for Art Story. I can personally attest that he is not in anyway the “bad guy” that he has sometimes been portrayed as. In fact I know that he truly believes that the dream is still achievable and based on what I have seen he is working every day to restore “balance to the force”. I for one hope he gets his second chance and expect that great things will come of it.

      I believe that the best days are ahead for everyone that was involved and at some point time will show that to be true.

      • bob

        The fact that he’s a personable guy doesn’t excuse the things that were happening. If someone can easily gain your trust by simply being nice, then I think you might be easy to manipulate.

    • Toonio

      Teeeemmmbooooooo! Sorry Aaron, couldn’t resist. Peace.

    • RinglingFaculty

      Good luck with the new studio, Aaron! I teach computer animation at Ringling College here in Florida and it would be great to have more in-state career opportunities for our graduates. It was obviously a big disappointment for us when Tradition/Tembo disappeared, so we’re very happy to hear that you’re (still) committed to developing a studio here.

    • bob

      a lot of people worked without any pay checks coming in and they were still making ridiculous offers to people in attempts to poach them. You probably weren’t affected by this because you’ve been around for a while, but people who were newer in the industry… it’s a different story.

    • Sunny place, Shady people

      I think you’re an amazing artist, and have great respect for you Aaron… But the best thing you could do is put some distance between you and Mr. Textor. How’s that saying go, “Fool me once, shame on you….. Fool me twice….shame on me….”

      Some of the nicest people you’ve ever met are Con-artists. Thats how they survive. Mr. Textor, and Digital Domain are among the best.

      The proposal wasn’t for “Free Labor” at the Florida Studio… was worse… Mr. Textor proposed that students would be “Paying Digital Domain to work”. I can’t get behind a man who preys on the enthusiasm and naivety of students.

  • Ryoku240

    Given from what I’ve heard from union workers, the unions do nothing but fish hook from their wallets.

    But these accounts are from work unions, the animators union is a whole different animal I’d hope.