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Arrested: Disney and Bluth Animator Jeffrey Varab

Jeffrey Varab

Jeff Varab, a veteran character animator with credits on The Fox and the Hound, All Dogs Go to Heaven, Balto, Mulan and Titan A.E., was arrested in Florida on thirteen counts of fraud. The story is reported on the Orlando Sentinel website. Apparently, it all stems from his faith-based animation studio Genesis, and a film he made, Tugger: The Jeep 4 x 4 Who Wanted to Fly. We first reported the sordid story of Tugger back in September 2006 and it appears that the situation was never resolved. The comments section of this post on the Animation Guild blog also help fill in pieces of Varab’s life.

  • I remember reading several years ago about all the crap he pulled on that Tugger movie (including conning employees to foot the bill to get prints of the film) and wondering why he wasn’t in jail. Then I saw the movie and wondered even harder.

    I guess it all worked out.

  • victoria

    Its about time someone was arrested for Titan A.E.

  • Ed Wood makes bad movies with other people’s money and gets to be a cult movie god. I guess Varab forgot the high heels and tight pink sweater.

    The total bail for 13 counts was only $6800; I bet this is resolved with no jail time.

    • Getting other people to invest in your bad movies is one thing. If you invest in just about anything, there’s always the chance that you’ll lose your money. From what I read in the Orlando Central article, this case has more to do with Varab wooing investors by talking up deals that hadn’t actually been made yet and largely never materialized. If someone tells you his crappy movie is going to be a big success and you invest in it and it tanks, you took a gamble and lost. If someone tells you his crappy movie is going to be a big success because Chrysler has agreed to buy a number of the DVDs and 20th Century Fox is going to handle the theatrical and DVD distribution and it turns out that Chrysler never agreed to buy the DVDs and Fox bailed and soon as they learned that, then you may be able to argue that you were misled.

  • this is all rather sad of course but… am i the only one who got a grin out of the fact this dude managed to convince ANYONE into funding a film called ‘Tugger: the jeep 4×4 who wanted to fly’???? Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue ey

    • Chris Sobieniak

      Let alone making it a Christian film about a Jeep like we hadn’t seen anything like that yet.

    • Shawn

      That was actually my first thought. Why even put in the 4×4 part? Why specifically a WWII jeep? Someone never took a marketing class in their life.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        It would seem like a disgrace to my hometown since the Jeep was born here, seeing one of it’s proudest creations being downgraded to Christian kiddie fodder!

  • jordan reichek

    I like all statements above.

    The lack of Ed Woodian/P.T. Barnum types in animation today gives me a sorta soft spot for this type of story.

    You go, Commander Varab!

  • Sydney Carton

    No way he goes to jail. He’ll leave the country before that ever happened.

  • eeteed

    “…it all stems from his faith-based animation studio Genesis…”

    maybe he should consider teaming up with tom hignite, of “faith based” miracle mouse fame.

    it could be a match made in heaven (pun intended).

  • Do you want orderly society or do you want entertainments?

    The west coast movie industry was founded to evade the legitimate patent holders of motion picture equipment.

    “Steamboat Willie” got off the ground using the patent infringing “Cinephone” process.

    And then there’s “Hollywood accounting” that can make any profit appear as a loss so no royalties or participation dollars need be paid.

    It looks like Varab *got caught*. Rightly so, it may be, but there’s a hundred others getting away with the same stuff as we speak.

  • w

    Poor Woody. I met him in 2002-ish in Banff. First time I’ve heard of this.

    Great guy, pitched us some of his boards on ‘Tugger’ during the workshop series and it looked to me like it might work – it didn’t have all of this ‘4×4 jeep that could fly’ tagged on to the title at the time, either. Kinda reminded me of the old Disney story about ‘Pedro’ in ‘Saludas Amigos’. Woody’s boards were charming.

    I guess he just chose the wrong business partner. And how.

    • Paul D

      I was thinking the same thing Warren. I met Woody at the same time and thought he was a damn decent bloke. Hope he’s doing ok.

  • What animation needs is smarter crooks.

  • “If you’re in business with a religious son of a bitch, get it in writing. His word isn’t worth shit, not with The Good Lord helping him to fuck you on the deal.”

    –William S. Burroughs

  • MiHi

    LOL! “Christian financial backers”. Idiots with money that have been fleeced by everyone from Ed Wood to Thomas Kinkade for years. When will they ever learn?

  • Met Varab back in the mid-nineties.
    Smug, self-satisfied, and couldn’t animate on sync to save his life. Had this real creepy vibe. I wouldn’t trust him with a dollar, let alone millions of dollars. I feel bad for those he managed to con, but I’m baffled as to why they trusted him in the first place.

  • I agree with Floyd Norman.

    I [i]knew[/i] there was a lesson I could take from this . . . Just kidding.

  • Robin Micheals

    I worked with Jeff in the past, and it was a very important part of my career, he basically lifted my work-in-progress animation skills, and tuned me into a professional animator.

    He is the most important person in my career development, and I owe him big time for that.

    At the same time, I had heard the stories, and know there is no smoke without fire.

    I’m very sorry about the alleged fraud… I don’t know the truth… I don’t think you can put your hand on your heart, and swear all the allegations on this forum are the truth. I personally know him well enough, that I would be on guard if he offered me a buisness proposition. But… he never made any trouble for me… so I have no bad feelings towards him.

    I was always surprised he had gotten away with it for so long, and it seems his luck has run out, but…. I think the guy is great, and until he screws me, I wish him the best.

  • When I worked for Amblimation – A Division of Universal Pictures, Ltd. in London UK [S.Spielberg`s animation venture at the time] as an animation newbie fresh from comicbooks I had the chance to meet and work along with Mr. Varab who was a supervising animator, pleasant fellow with stories from his Disney and Don Bluth days, a mentor and the influence.
    Never ever knew him outside the work, tho`.
    His drawing and animating seminars and the chance to watch him draw and animate influenced me for life. He and Borge Ring were the biggest animation names I could come close to in those days long gone by.
    The story about his arrest saddens me and deeply inside I hope it`s not like that.
    Without an attempt to patronize – just reminisce – I just want to say that I have only the most pleasant memories about the man I shared the same studio corner from 1991 to 1993.

    • Andy G

      I’m glad you had a pleasant experience with JJ. I worked at Amblin from 93-94. and my abiding memory is of a lazy arrogant bully, who, if he could be arsed to turn up for work at all used to spend most of his time strutting about the studio with a gigantic German Shepherd or sat with his feet up on his desk reading the Sun newspaper while his assistants did all his work for him. Happy days.

    • Andy G

      I’m glad that yours was a pleasant experience of JJ. My abiding memory from Amblin 93-94. is of a lazy arrogant bully who, if he could be bothered to turn up for work at all, used to spend all his time either strutting around the studio with his gigantic slobbering dog or perched with his feet up on desk reading the Sun newspaper. Happy Days.

  • Christie C

    I’ve been working with Jeffrey Varab for over a year. He’s a good friend of mine and has always been there for me, especially supporting my development as an artist. I find what everyone is saying very interesting and some of it is true about his character, but I must say that most of this is rumor and gossip. Jeffrey was never arrested and to this day, there is no evidence against him for fraud. I’ve been here the entire time and witnessed all of this. Basically, these investors are pissed off because they didn’t make money. So since they couldn’t get any money back, destroying his reputation was the next best thing. They obviously succeeded.

  • Rob D

    Christie C,

    It is pointless to argue with the people who are presently working with Jeffrey because he is your meal ticket in some way. You are still starry eyed and in awe of his resume. But your explanation of his persecution by angry investors is one that I have heard from Jeffrey’s mouth a zillion times and then parroted myself to people who would warn me when I was still giving him the benefit of the doubt. Regardless, you are wrong because he was arrested. Here is the link to the Osceola court record. Go there yourself. He was arrested July 28 of last year. And there is evidence of fraud. That is how you arrest somebody…you need evidence. And he is not going to court because “investors are mad.” The fraud alleges that he sold or tried to sell something that was not rightfully his.

    So if he has never lied to you, but said that he was never arrested…well here is lie number one. I’ve been in this business long enough to know that people have bad experiences and do less than honest things. But usually those things are isolated incidents. If even 25% of what everyone says is true then this is someone to keep your guard up around.

  • Jailfrey Varad

    This jerk just plead GUILTY to 12 out of 13 charges against him. He goes to sentencing in March. What a pathetic liar and waste of talent and oxygen. Anybody who works with this fool deserves whatever they get. Suck it Matt Dragovits. Suck it hard and deep you bozo.

    • Matt Dragovits

      @ Jailfrey Varad – Every the coward, just like in all of your other posts. You don’t even have the courage to put your real name as you try to insult me. Truly pathetic. You are a coward and you know it.

      BTW, if you read the document that was posted it doesn’t say Jeffrey was convicted. It states “ADJUDICATION WITHHELD NO TRIAL REQUIRED” That means that while jeffrey may not have followed the exact letter of the law it was not significant enough to penalize him. This usually happens in cases where there wasn’t enough evidence to convict the defendant and the judge has to issue this order to save face for the court. Otherwise the Dr. who brought forth the charges could have been charged himself for a frivolous lawsuit.

      All of these charges stemmed from that one Dr. investor who got pissed that he movie didn’t make money right away. He then went and sabotaged any success “Tugger” might have had by making these claims while Jeffrey was in the middle of trying to tie-down business relationships and distribution. (which the movie now has by the way)

      In the end, the charges didn’t stick because they didn’t have enough merit, but the Dr. did get what he wanted by hurting Jeffrey’s reputation.

      And to you Jailfrey Varad… I suggest you follow your own instructions from the last line of your earlier statement. In the end Jeffrey has this nonsense behind him. He’s already working again in the industry, and you are still a bitter jerk who can’t seem to move past the events of five years ago.

      • Coned

        Matt stop defending him already. The man was arrested and plead guilty to twelve counts of fraud. He is not working in the industry currently. That is a lie. He does not work for Allied Artist no matter what he has told you. And the movie does not have any new distribution to speak of. Just the on it got through bankruptcy.

  • celebrategoodtimes

    Varab pled guilty to 12 counts of fraud, sentencing in march.

    • Rob S.

      Just to correct the last comment. jeffrey did not admit to 12 counts of fraud. The State dropped all fraud charges. Jeffrey has no guilt charges. Ha admitted that the company’s accountant should have registered the loans towards the making of the Tugger the Jeep film with the SEC, securities and exchange commission. With no guilt. Case closed.

      • Coned

        Rob you now know the truth. I suggest you return here and tell your story. Its all to familiar with these people.

  • Coned

    Read the report. He pled guilty to twelve counts. He is guilty. He got lucky. He has along history of this kind of stuff. I find it interesting that only 3 people ever have stuck up for him on these posts, but I know for a fact that Cristie C and rob s have since changed their view of him even if they have not stated it in these posts. So that leaves only matt, who lives in a different state than jeffery and has never found success with anything he has done with Jeffery. Matt is a good guy from what I know of him, who has been fooled like so many of us. Jeffery is good at what he does. He is currently on five years of probation and still running around celebration Florida trying to con innocent people. Why does a talented man who comes off as so nice and friendly now have no friends in the small Florida town he lives in?

    • Coned

      I expect more charges to come in the future. I know of a couple of projects where charges could be filed against him. Its only time.

  • Matt Dragovits

    I’ve stated many times that I didn’t work with Jeffrey during the “Tugger” days. When I met him he had previously been charged for the same issues and the charges were dropped.

    I met Jeffrey when he was in charge of the Orlando animation studio for 3DH Entertainment. He was very friendly, open, and excited. He raved about the talented people that worked in the studio, and he took the time to show me what they were up to. A year later, when the animation studio closed its doors I know a lot of employees started bad-mouthing Jeffrey, even though he lost his job right along with them. I read all kinds of insults and insinuations leveled against Jeffrey that it was all his fault. At the time Jeffrey told me that was not the case, but he had no proof to the contrary. All he had was his word. Well, a few months later I went to Atlanta with Jeffrey to 3DH’s corporate HQ. The company was still in business and asked Jeffrey for some help. During the meeting I heard the CFO tell Jeffrey directly that it was his decision, as CFO, to shut down the studio and that it wasn’t anything personal. The company made the decision based on the fact that the animation projects would take at least another year to start generating revenue and they chose to focus on the medical side of their company instead. I heard this directly, not from Jeffrey, and not from a whisper-down-the-alley. So, as you can imagine, it is difficult for me to believe all the slander when people accuse Jeffrey of things.

    I know full well that Jeffrey’s biggest problem is that he gets over-excited about projects and doesn’t focus on paperwork like he should. He wants to believe that things are going to happen and he paints a very positive picture, (that he truly believes). Jeffrey will be the first person to admit that he is not the best with business and contracts. His talent lies in his art.

    Awhile back, AWN allowed Jeffrey to explain this in his own words. Whether you are friends with Jeffrey or not, it is a good read.

    From everything I know about the Tugger case, the judge allowed Jeffrey to plea out with probation for the offenses and they were based more on improper filing than any malicious intent.

    I think it is high time that everyone involved in this film leave it in the past and move on to more positive endeavors. And while some people have bashed me for my defense of Jeffrey, I wish you no ill will. To the contrary, I hope that all of you achieve success in the pursuit of your dreams. In the end, we are all kindred spirits.. We are creative individuals trying to share our visions with the world. Good luck, and have a Merry Christmas.