More about the closure of Wild Brain San Francisco

It’s been a tough year in San Francisco. First, The Orphanage shut down, and then we reported earlier this month that Wild Brain is a goner. The Business of Animation blog, run by an anonymous industry vet, has posted more about why the Bay Area Wild Brain was shuttered. Apparently, it was at the urging of one particular female exec:

How did this happen? Well, I cannot say for sure. But the rumor going around is that when the previous CEO left, they brought in a woman to run the company. She was a TV producer down in LA and her big bright idea was to shutter the SF office. Supposedly she put the kibosh on any incoming projects, just to guarantee there was no work to support the studio.

The woman in question who was brought in to run the company is Marge Dean, and I’ve heard a similar tale from my sources that corroborates this version of the story.

Equally enlightening is a reader comment from the same post. It was written by an anonymous person who worked at Wild Brain in its earliest days. The comment is worth reposting in its entirety:

I guess the saying might be that they always took the opportunity to do the wrong thing, but that might be a bit harsh. They had, in the start, an esprit de corps, since I was one of the original 7 or so with the company.

“We few, we merry few…”

And yes, we took chances, we got creative, and we got things started and done since it was all of out asses on the line. Once it got too big, once money came into the picture, then you really could see the divisions, especially during the Dot-Com blizzard of cash and idiocy. Once the bottom fell out, so did all barnstorming and chance taking. The joy was sucked out of it. Wounds never healed. Backs remained stabbed.

We need that kind of company in the Bay Area again, like the early days of Colossal or the ‘Brain. Small enough to take chances and try new approaches, but egalitarian enough to avoid the layers of fat and mindless loyalties.

UPDATE: Reader “Judas P. Foxglove” offers another perspective in the comments about what’s happening at Wild Brain:

Wildbrain was not “shuttered” in the traditional meaning of the term. The studio moved to Los Angeles, the recognized epicenter of animation in this country. Anyone who is bemoaning a prudent business move (during a recession mind you) is probably someone who has a lot of sour grapes. All things change and everyone who lives and breathes in this world has suffered the consequences(or reaped the benefits) of change around them.

For what its worth, and what isn’t mentioned in this post, is that Wildbrain Studios in Los Angeles is as vibrant and creative a place as any that I have ever worked for – and I’ve been in the industry for over ten years in three different cities. And when the productions we are working on are released they are going to knock your socks off.


  • Judas P. Foxglove

    Wildbrain was not “shuttered” in the traditional meaning of the term. The studio moved to Los Angeles, the recognized epicenter of animation in this country. Anyone who is bemoaning a prudent business move (during a recession mind you) is probably someone who has a lot of sour grapes. All things change and everyone who lives and breathes in this world has suffered the consequences(or reaped the benefits) of change around them.

    For what its worth, and what isn’t mentioned in this post, is that Wildbrain Studios in Los Angeles is as vibrant and creative a place as any that I have ever worked for – and I’ve been in the industry for over ten years in three different cities. And when the productions we are working on are released they are going to knock your socks off.
    So please temper this lugubrious post with those tidings of good things to come.

    Thank you, and good day.

  • Paul N

    What Judas doesn’t mention (and may not know, since the history of Wildbrain reaches back more than 10 years) is that the studio was founded in San Francisco after the demise of Colossal Studios, and was very successful, both commercially and creatively, until the change in management created this recent turn of events.

  • Pedro Nakama

    WIld Brain right now is in talks with the Animation Guild so they will be a union shop in LA.

  • Vanocur

    The executive in question has an odious track record of killing creative souls. This latest move leaves it intact. Bet a fat bonus got paid for pulling it.

  • Brighton Roc

    “The woman in question who was brought in to run the company is Marge Dean, and I’ve heard a similar tale from my sources that corroborates this version of the story. ”
    Although this is not a proper news source and you are not a journalist (so far as I know) I appreciate you getting your information from two sources when writing the story. Thank you.

  • creepy

    Can’t believe Wild Brain is gone! It was one of the longer lasting independent shops. I wish the artists well on their new endeavors.

  • Rainbow Tear

    I worked for Wildbrain San Francisco for many, many years.

    The post on The Business of Animation is just poorly written. First of all, it makes it sound like the company simply failed because “a woman took over for the CEO” That is not the case at all. Marge Dean did NOT take over for the CEO, she was hired as General Manager, and continues in that roll to this day. You can find that out simply by looking at W!LDBRAIN’s website.

    Sometime in the late 90s, Wild Brain, inc (as it was then called) entered into a business deal that left them with a lot of financially interested parties (the board of directors). After the economic crash of 2001, the company had a different CEO every few quarters while these gentlemen scrambled to recover what they could of their battered investments. Once these businessmen took control of the company and started making decisions based on their portfolios, the creative spirit of the studio was broken.

    It wasn’t until 2005, when Charlie Rivkin took over as CEO (former CEO of Jim Henson Productions), that a glimmer of hope for recovery first appeared. In a series of unexpected moves (buying Kid Robot, for example), it was clear that Mr. Rivkin’s priority wasn’t in allowing the studio to creatively flourish, but to make a profit. Again, major letdown for company morale, but could you blame him? That’s what CEOs are for.

    I believe that Marge Dean was brought in to figure out a way to justify the existence of the animation production division of Wildbrain, since most of their profit now was coming from co-production deals and toy sales. Since Marge wasn’t from San Francisco (and she seemed a poor fit for the existing staff), and all of her people were in LA it makes sense that she would propose moving the studio to LA… not only was her network there, but the majority of the board of directors was also in LA, piles of LA talent, and everyone that you’d want to talk to about making motion picture deals.

    The Wildbrain that opened in Los Angeles is not the Wildbrain that existed in San Francisco at all. It moved in name alone. Not a single creative or producer was transferred, or given the option to transfer to the new studio. The relocation makes sense, seeing who was running the thing, and the fact that they seemed to be more interested in making co-production deals over developing new properties in-house.

    Most of the creative backbone of the old (Colossal) Pictures (the guys who made the early Wild Brain great) are still here in San Francisco, and I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do next.

  • http://cartoonlandanimation.com Kevin C.

    These things have their own lifespan.
    Colossal lasted a good 10-15 years or so, as did Wildbrain.
    Studios don’t last forever.
    They come, they go.
    Best to look forward.

  • Matt Sullivan

    MARGE DEAN IS EVIL. Evil i tell you. This is the same ignorant, lazy suit-wearing man-woman that ran Sony Animation ( adelaide ) into the ground. She never lifted a FINGER to help the animators, even when we told her we needed help. She’s on top of my S**T list for sure and NO ONE in their right mind should employ her. I’m never for blacklisting but damn….she is some BAD MOJO JUJU VOODOO.

  • Ocho Bandito

    The only very good thing about this closing is that the new shop in LA will be unionized. The artists need protection from bad working conditions, overworking, and flighty business motives.

    Best of luck to the new generation of “Brainers”.

  • shlocko

    Good riddance!

    Bunch of full of themselves brainers which could not stand talent except
    if they were going to get laid and worship ’cause they are from san fran.

    I know all of them, bunch of overrated types.

    Ha! good luck in this economy.

  • Robertryan Cory

    I want to second Judas and say that the wildbrain LA studio has some of the nicest most talented people filling the place. I also agree that the work being done there is exceptional. Wait until you see this one project Amid, it’s one of the funniest best looking projects ever produced for TV.