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Artist Rights

300 Digital Domain Employees Lose Jobs; “Legend of Tembo” Shuts Down Production; John Textor Ousted


Awful news out of Florida this morning. Digital Domain announced today that as part of “a strategic realignment that will enable it to focus its resources on its core business,” it will shut down its new Port St. Lucie, Florida studio Tradition and halt production of its first animated feature The Legend of Tembo. Per the studio’s press release:

As a key part of this strategic realignment, DDMG has begun the cessation of its Port St. Lucie operations by reducing virtually its entire Port St. Lucie workforce, retaining approximately 20 employees who will remain as part of the wind-down.

According to a Cartoon Brew commenter, 300 people lost their jobs this morning. The breakdown: “About 100 on Tembo, 50 or so on VFX, 100 or so doing Stereo Conversion work, and about 50 or so misc. employees.”

One artist who was let go tweeted, “A very sad day for the Digital Domain Tradition studios family. I’ll miss the whole Tembo crew,” and followed up with, “In related news, I’m looking for work! I’ll have an updated portfolio online later today.”

Other Digital Domain studios will remain open according to the same press release: “DDMG’s studios in California and Vancouver intend to continue to operate without interruption, as will the Digital Domain Institute, based in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Further, John Textor is stepping down:

John C. Textor has resigned, effective immediately, from his positions as Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Directors of DDMG, as a member of the Board of Directors of DDMG, and from all positions as an officer and director with all subsidiaries of DDMG.

Digital Domain executive Ed Ulbrich has been promoted to Chief Executive Officer of Digital Domain Productions. Ulbrich has been with the company since its founding in 1993. According to DD’s corporate website, Ulbrich is “the chief architect of its commercials business, including Mothership.” He has exec-produced the vfx for over 500+ commercials, as well as the studio’s Academy Award-winning vfx in Titanic and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

I wrote at the end of August about how Digital Domain was on the brink of disaster due to Textor’s reckless management. What was written then is appropriate to reprint today:

There are already many victims in this situation. I feel awful for the artists who are working on Digital Domain’s first (and potentially last) feature The Legend of Tembo, as well as for all the other Digital Domain employees. I feel bad for Florida citizens who handed $132 million of their taxpayer dollars to a reckless and clueless businessman. I feel outraged for the incoming students of Digital Domain Institute who may have to perform slave labor because Digital Domain doesn’t believe in federal labor laws.

But you know who I don’t feel sorry for?

John Textor.

UPDATE (2:10PM ET): has spoken to multiple artists who have been let go in Florida:

“Today’s the last day, there wasn’t much to be said. Just everybody apologized and said this is something that’s very hard for everybody,” said Philip Rosado, a digital artist. Rosado said he moved here from Vancouver, Canada, and had been working for Digital Domain for about a year. “Gotta get on the horn and find work,” he said. “I got two babies to feed, a wife to take care of, a roof to put over our heads. It’s not about me. It’s about my family.”

They also have a statement from Scott Ross, who started Digital Domain in 1993 with James Cameron and Stan Winston:

“It really breaks my heart when a company is started, and a company moves employees 3,000 miles away to a new home with a promise of a great future with the knowledge that there’s a strong possibility that the company would be out of business or that it would shutter its doors. It’s unconscionable to me that you can upset a human being’s life and a family’s life in the way that this company has.”

This photo taken by TCPalm photographer Will Greenlee is captioned: “A Port St. Lucie Police Department officer is stationed Friday at the gates of Digital Domain Media Group Tradition Studio as workers leave the building with their possessions.”

UPDATE (3:40PM ET): Watch local news coverage from WPTV:

UPDATE (4:05PM ET): Read the resignation letter of CEO John Textor.