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REPORT: Oriental Dreamworks Is Dying

A Variety story published last week all but confirmed that Oriental Dreamworks (ODW) is dead in its current form.

Dreamworks Animation’s new owner, Comcast NBCUniveral, is attempting to restructure its ownership stake in Oriental Dreamworks, of which it currently owns 45%. The remaining parts are owned by Chinese stated-backed companies like China Media Capital and Shanghai Alliance Investment Ltd.

Dreamworks still has one film on its current slate that is planned for production by ODW — Everest — and it is still slated for release in September 2019. The studio, which was launched with great fanfare in 2012, was involved in the production of four earlier Dreamworks films: The Penguins of Madagascar, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Home, and Kung Fu Panda 3.

The studio, much like Dreamworks’ other divisions, was expensive to operate. Per Variety, “In animation circles it was sometimes said that DWA was the only Hollywood company to go to China and operate with higher costs than in the U.S.”

Oriental Dreamworks reportedly laid off 40 artists in Shanghai earlier this month. The studio, which at its peak in 2014 had 250 employees, has been floundering for some time, long before Comcast entered the picture. The studio tried diversifying into live-action films as early as 2014, though it has been unable to get those projects off the ground.

Today the operation employs under 100 people. Other Chinese studios have reported receiving an increase in resumes from Oriental Dreamworks animators.

A source close to the company told Variety that Universal doesn’t need an animation studio in China: “It’s not because it’s not an important or successful business, it just duplicates what they already have in China.” It’s unclear what that means since Universal does not have an animation studio in China, though perhaps the source was referring to the distribution side.

Dreamworks, Universal, and Comcast have all declined to comment on the status of the studio. However, majority stakeholder China Media Capital (CMC) released a statement on Monday addressing the Variety report:

The Chinese animation industry has been actively adjusting in coordination with the restructuring in Hollywood. CMC will conform to the market changes and continue to seek overseas collaboration with leaders in production, creativity and distribution…We will maintain a stable headcount of over 100 staff.

Variety pointed out that last October, the Chinese government launched an antitrust investigation into Comcast-NBCUniversal’s acquisition of Dreamworks. It’s unclear what impact that probe may have had on Comcast’s current desire to divest itself of Oriental Dreamworks.

Much more can be said about Oriental Dreawmorks — and it’ll probably be said by someone at some point — but at this juncture, it’s simply interesting to observe how Jeffrey Katzenberg’s entire animation empire was basically a house of cards. Nothing he created was built to last because there was never a strong foundation, creatively or otherwise, underpinning any of his ideas.

Once DWA started faltering creatively, Katzenberg started making outlandish bets on the future — the future is 3D filmmaking! the future is China! — to help distract investors from the fact that the company was adrift without a captain. The charade worked long enough for him to squeeze out a few hundred million for himself, but what remains today of Dreamworks that actually has any value is meager to say the least.

If you’re keeping track, here are some of the changes that Comcast-NBCUniversal has made at Dreamworks since it bought the company:

  • sad :(

  • The news coming out of DreamWorks gets grim each time. I hope they planning some big renovations, because this is getting to be a little sad..

  • Troy

    “Other Chinese studios have reported receiving an increase in resumes from Oriental Dreamworks animators.”
    Just because you’re (the studios) stating this doesn’t mean anything if you’re not taking them in. It is painfully obvious that Comcast is just letting the studio flounder so I don’t see why they can’t straight up close it.

  • Pedro Nakama

    But do they still have bacon Thursday?

  • While I’m not enjoying the idea of DreamWorks becoming Illumination’s twin brother, I’d have to admit that there was no way around these changes. DreamWorks has been on the decline ever the underperforming Rise of the Guardians, and they haven’t recovered since. The way I see it, Universal’s reduction methods have just been ways of keeping the studio alive.

  • Elsi Pote

    The Katz took its soul on his way out, laughing all the way to the bank, while ridding his steed into the oriental sunset.

  • Andres Molina

    I’m not all that surprised. They have gone downhill since their partnership with Fox in 2013, thats when many of their problems came to be. I think their biggest problem is that they’re expanding too rapidly. Think about it, 2-3 films a year, 11 television shows currently running as of March 2016, and numerous divisions, its overkill. Compare that to Pixar. Their pipeline, 1-2 films and short films a year, all in one production facility. Much simpler, no tv shows, just feature animation, and 4-8 minute short films, and its been mostly a smooth ride for them. Sure Pixar has their hiccups, but you never see them fire hundreds of employees or write up millions of dollars every year.

    DreamWorks is producing too much and expanding too fast. Their curse pretty much started when they signed a 5 year distribution deal with Fox in 2013, and when they started experiencing numerous flops and layoff. In my opinion, things have truly gone south for the company in 2015, when they decided to shut down PDI, the Redwood City based studio that, in my opinion, is pretty much DWA’s most successful studio, and the same studio responsible for their most important film, Shrek, the film that established them as Pixar’s biggest competitor. PDI was, in my opinion, their best facility, the company that brought them the most success, and they decided to shut the company down, laying off about 500 employees. So lets just say, they had to shut down one of their facilities. They could of shut down their Indian or Chinese studio, or, you know what, I think they should of spun off PDI into an independent studio, or even sold it off to a different company, you know at the very least try to give PDI a new home and/or a more hopeful, fulfilling future, but instead, they shut it down.

    So really, shutting down PDI didn’t really put a bandage on their wound, it only added salt and lemon on it, because now, not only do they not have their most important facility, but they must still have to deal with the overstuffed pipeline and overabundance of tv shows and movies coming every year. And since then, things have only gotten worse since then. Now they have cancelled Larrikins, a film that could’ve been an intriguing, exciting experience and are now on the verge of shutting down their Chinese facility. This what happens when you expand too fast and focus more on quantity over quality, and focus more on sequels and franchising then crafting inventive ideas and raking risks. At least Pixar had announced that after their lineup of sequels, they would focus back on doing original projects, which I believe will be great, because even despite their hiccups, I can see Pixar and think, this is a studio I can believe in, this is a studio I can count on, this is a studio that, even when they don’t succeed, they will find a way and try again, and face it, Pixar is a studio with a clear strategy, something DreamWorks is lacking.

    I might be writing too much, and I’m probably overthinking it, and this is all just my opinion, but this is something I have been wanting to say for a long time. DreamWorks is in great trouble, and lets all just hope, a miracle will spark and bring them back, but in the end, only time will tell.

    • Doconnor

      Once difference is that Pixar is plugged into the whole Disney infrastructure. You want to do a TV series (Buzz Lightyear of Star Command), they have a division to produce it and a network to put it on. You want to do a direct-to-video spln-off (Planes) they have a division for that, too. That lets Pixar focus on more on producing great features, and have Disney take care of the rest.

      • Andres Molina

        I agree, but here is the thing. During 2000, Pixar was an independent company that signed a 5 picture deal with Disney, and part of the original contract is that Disney owns the rights to Pixar’s characters, hence the creation of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, which was produced by Disney Television Animation, which is not a Pixar division, and the Planes films were produced by DisneyToon Studios, a Disney division. I’m talking about Pixar themselves, not Disney’s divisiosn, and by themselves, Pixar has done primarily feature animation and short films, and their television specials are prime exceptions, which were produced at Pixar. But yeah, let Disney do the marketing and franchising, while Pixar does feature animation.

    • Ernesto Jose Narvaez Osorio

      I love you and you are right but its “Should Have” not “Should Of”

    • KW

      Do you have a link to where they said they would focus more on original ideas after these string of sequels is over?

      • Andres Molina

        Here you go:
        http://www.slashfilm.com/pixar-sequels/
        http://www.pixarpost.com/2016/07/pixar-four-original-films.html
        http://uproxx.com/movies/no-pixar-sequels-planned-after-2019/

        While I honestly would love for Pixar to produce an adaptation, it’s great to know that Pixar will promise us new original ideas. Who knows what they are? Maybe, they will feature a completely different story formula, or even a different art style, maybe one of them will be stylized, or photorealistic, maybe one of them is a hand-drawn/CGI hybrid or even stop-motion, maybe one of then is a dark, edgy film or something just plain experimental. Who really knows, some people will say, they should stick to what they do best. But you know what, when I think Pixar, I think innovation, I think of top-grade storytelling that exceeds what other studios accomplished, I think of doing what other studios wouldn’t. And part of that includes changing, and trying new things. So in my opinion, if anyone at Pixar has the chance to read this, I want them to know, they are the prime example of unbeatable storytelling and mastery and I will say, strive to try new ideas, change your formula, challenge yourself, because the greatest minds in are this who strive to be the best.

        • Dusty Ayres

          I will say, strive to try new ideas, change your formula, challenge yourself, because the greatest minds in are this who strive to be the best.

          That will mean doing work that will piss off all of the parents (and others) that expect Pixar/Disney to do only light-hearted fare and not anything adult or dark; the $64,000 question is, can Pixar do that?

  • Exilov

    – HTTYD3 keeps getting pushed back and might not even get made at this rate
    – Cars 3 will be in theaters this year

    Kill me.

    • Roman Reigns Owns The IWC

      Well, I’m actually one of the few people that liked Cars 2, sorry dude.

  • Jim Ryan

    Amid – are you capable of discussing DreamWorks without editorializing how awful you think Jeffrey is or the studio is with every story? Obviously, the studio has struggled mightily in recent years. But they have produced a lot of great movies over the years and were very successful for quite some time. The latest releases TROLLS, BOSS BABY, and CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS are all great films. You appear to have no objectivity whatsoever when it comes to DreamWorks.

    • Editorializing

      Are you telling Amid to stop editorializing? Amid is the editor-in-chief at Cartoon Brew. Editorial comments are part of the game. Now, you’re welcome to disagree with and criticize his opinion, but criticizing him for having one is silly.

    • Janet

      Jim, I love you and know you, but the truth is, at the end of the day, Jeffrey got power hungry and made a ton of bad decisions. Remember the days when people snickered in company updates when he pushed ridiculously strange ideas at us? People asked him at every one of those meetings why he wasn’t exploring distribution on different platforms. He disregarded those questions every time to talk about his grand 3D initiative, and now look at him. He’s in the platform space. Well behind the rest. Meanwhile, he kept you and thousands of other employees from also making the money they deserved by colluding with the other “leaders” in the Animation business. I say bring on the editorializing of JK! We need more of it – that guy screwed us all over to fill his pockets. You and I were pawns in that little mans game.

      • Jim Ryan

        I think it’s obvious many bad decisions were made over the years. I’m not remotely suggesting DW or JK were perfect. But Amid’s article is yet another example where he strays off topic to slam Jeffrey or the studio unnecessarily. He takes the China project story and ends up claiming Jeffrey didn’t build anything to last, no creative foundation, etc etc. Always paints him as taking the money and running. The reality is DW is the most successful animation startup beyond Disney – 20+ years and going. They’ve had a great deal of success along with the struggles. Their last film will be a new franchise – TROLLS. The next 2 are really good films. Having seen JK work up close for 20 years, the guy worked harder than anyone else and his focus was always on making the best possible movie. He wasn’t always right nor were his decisions, but he usually earned the respect of most everyone who worked with him. I totally expect to read criticism of Dreamworks – the studio has had several very rough years and lots of amazing people lost their jobs. But a little objectivity would be nice on this site.

  • Frank Coufal

    After hearing about what they did to Larrikins, I honestly feel like I can’t trust DreamWorks or NBC Universal/Comcast anymore. I’ll just form my own 2D animation studio someday, when I have the money to do it. For now, I’ll just turn to Disney, Pixar, and maybe Warner Bros.

    • Going indie is probably the best way, shows off to the establishment.

  • chucker1

    I was late to the game on the Kung Fu Panda’s movies and surprisingly really enjoyed watching them. Not sure what the general consensus here is. I read somewhere that original plan was for 7 of them, I guess it looks like a 4th will not be anytime soon on the horizon….

  • Could have told you that.

    Hate to see anybody lose jobs anywhere… But Dreamworks was dead set on global outsourcing domination. India Studio. China Studio. And more recently, outsourcing to Canadian studio.
    Flawed plan from the beginning. looked good on paper, cheap wages. But the work was sub par, and cost more to fix than it ever did to create it in the first place. Dreamworks under Katzenberg spread itself too thin, and PDI got lost in the crossfire of mis-management, and bad business decisions.

  • J

    I wonder if Comcast bought the company without really knowing the details, now realizes what bad shape they’re in, and is now scrambling to make it profitable.
    When they say “It just duplicates what they already have in China” they’re probably referring to studios like Original Force which work on the How to Train Your Dragon TV series. That studio is a much worse place to work, but their underbidding and creative use of software licenses means their operating costs are lower than ODW.
    Dreamworks has money, and a brand name, and with that they can attract talent. It remains to be seen whether they’ll use the money in the right places while they have it to create an enduring brand, or if the company is truly in a downward spiral.

    • It would be sad if the first of the nails start to be hammered onto the coffin this way.

  • Jim Ryan

    I work at Dreamworks and have seen them both.