Wild Brain SF Shuts Down, Special Agent Opens for Business

Special Agent

Earlier this week, Wild Brain co-founder Phil Robinson and Wild Brain producer Amy Capen officially announced the launch of a boutique Bay Area-animation studio called Special Agent Productions. Details from the launch press release can be found at SHOOT. Over the past year, I’ve been hearing rumblings about turmoil at Wild Brain, but I was confused as to why the founder of the studio had left to start his own shop. It turns out that Wild Brain in San Francisco was shut down.

A source who asked not to be named offered some details about what’s been going on these past few months:

Basically, Wild Brain SF closed shop end of June. It was rumored that the board of directors/new management decided that the San Francisco branch was too much of a liability. There was a lot of politics behind that decision (i.e. the success of the TV business model of Yo Gabba Gabba!; the fact that the board and most of the executives are based in LA), and it got really ugly towards the end. It seems they wanted to cut their losses and open a new Flash studio in LA (which I heard is gobbling up all the Cartoon Network artists right now for a Ricky Gervais pilot).

Everybody scattered to the wind. Scary time. Since Phil and Amy were the main commercial people, they decided to form their own boutique shop and take the strength of their commercial reputation with them (i.e. Esurance, Lamisil).

Special Agent’s first project out of the gate is a 90-second Erin Esurance Bollywood-themed spot that premiered this week on IFC, and which can be seen on Special Agent’s website.

UPDATE: I just heard from the gang at Ghostbot, and they worked with Phil to produce the new Bollywood spot. Ghostbot, for those who may be unfamiliar, has animated many of the best Esurance spots to date.


  • ask

    Never heard of this Ricky Gervais pilot, but any celeb interested in animation has my vote! I just hope those animators all landed on their feet okay- it’s not like NOTHING came out of Wildbrain’s close.

  • Adam

    Oh, that disgusting lamasil toe-fungus gremlin ad is on the reel. Neat.

    Well, here’s the the success of Special Agent. One more studio in the Bay Area with fewer strings connecting it to LA is a good thing in my book.

  • Liam Scanlan

    Ed Edd n Eddy and Lupo creator Danny Antonucci set up a deal with Wildbrain last year:www.wildbrain.com/press/releases/WB_Release_Antonucci.pdf

    He was working on a new show in SF before the shutdown:www.wildbrain.com/press/releases/WB_Release_Antonucci.pdf

    If Wildbrain wants to retool its animation department as a Flash studio, then both Danny and Wildbrain will have a falling out because Danny himself hates Flash or anything CGI:www.youtube.com/watch?v=aY4NORVDI9k
    You and Jerry have already seen this, Amid. So please post this on info on the site immediately! Even the guys at Edtropolis should see this bad news.

  • Pedro Nakama

    This was mentioned at the last Animation Guild meeting. They mentioned something about working on “Peanuts”. Is this a Charlie Brown show? Or are they working for Peanuts?

  • Robiscus

    Also a major factor in this (and unmentioned)is that the SF branch of the studio was focused solely on commercial work and the bottom has fallen out of the advertising industry.

    Its nice to see that the denigrating of LA by SF folks continues even in the comments at CartoonBrew. I always get a kick out of the effort. It seems to come up in every conversation with San Francisco residents, but I can’t reciprocate the energy. I don’t really consider San Francisco, except if I’m visiting or have it as a stop over on the way to Seattle…

  • http://cartoonlandanimation.com Kevin C.

    These studio things have a 10-12 year run.
    That’s how it works.
    Kudos to John and Phil.

  • https://twitter.com/danny_shea Danny Shea

    As far as I know, the Ricky Gervais animated pilot is using Gervais’ very popular and extremely funny podcast series as its basis. I’m not sure if this just means they will be animating to the already recorded conversations or if there will be brand new material from Gervais. Regardless, it means an animated Karl Pilkington, and that is a-okay in my book.

  • http://smomotion.com :: smo ::

    i’ve got a couple friends who just started at the la wildbraid a bit ago on the gervais pilot, sounds like things are going pretty well on the la side of things at least and they have a great team there!

  • Flip

    Wow. The lid is finally off. The “end” started almost a year ago. You can all do your own timelines, but it was ugly and long. There is plenty more behind the stories, just don’t assume you know the “real” ones, unless you were closer to ground zero.

    Re Danny A- He may have worked on things with other company players, but WB/SF never got to work with him.

    WB/SF did do a lot of commercials but it was far more than that. For many years they were producing tv series too, and that’s not just the highly publicized acquisitions. 2.5 seasons of Higglytown Heroes (home-grown) and most recently a new pre-school series for Nickelodeon. There was one more orig. series pending, but it will have to go to LA now. SF would have gladly done more than be “focused solely on commercial work”. It’s never that simple, Robiscus. See unnamed source’s comments above.

    The talented trio at Ghostbot were all animators back in the day at Wildbrain, so that relationship is fairly symbiotic. Here’s hoping all the smaller shops keep it flowing.

    Kudos to John, Phil and Jeff!

  • Rufus

    I’m surprised the article doesn’t mention the key factor that triggered the string of events. The real politics behind everything was that Charlie Rivkin, Wildbrain CEO, was appointed US Ambassador to France by Obama.

    After that happened the company had to adapt to a new CEO who was all about marketing & merchandising existing properties. Commercial & work for hire series production simply wasn’t profitable enough to justify an expensive SF lease.

    Always ugly when people lose their jobs, and it didn’t happen gracefully in this case, but that’s mostly just business.

    It was a good 15 year run in SF that kept a lot of artists and people employed… leaving behind an excellent body of work to show for it all. Hopefully the LA branch will someday come close to the kind of creative environment that originally was Wildbrain.