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Disney ends deal with Zemeckis and his Mo-Cap

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Disney has ended its deal with Robert Zemeckis’ mo-cap factory, Image Movers. Disney is closing down the Marin County studio and laying off 450 people. But, according to the Times piece:

ImageMovers is currently completing production on “Mars Needs Moms,” which Disney plans to release in March 2011. Zemeckis is also developing a 3-D adaptation of the 1968 Beatles animated film, “Yellow Submarine.”

Without a major studio backing it, and with some luck, the Beatles project will die a quick death. Hopefully Mr. Zemeckis will return to the quality live-action filmmaking he was so good at before this disastrous detour into CG animation.

  • Disney said the studio is “hoping to create a long-term production deal” with Zemeckis and his IMD partners, Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey, which would include the ongoing development of “Yellow Submarine,” although no arrangement has been finalized.

  • Woo hoo! its about damn time this happens! I wonder what the next live-action project he’s gonna do is.

  • OH Lord! Hallelujah!

  • Not liking the news of any up-coming lay-offs { again }, but having this ‘style’ of animation maybe come to a stop and let us get back to actually hitting key poses isn’t bad news on a friday night.

    But I’m not sold that another studio won’t take over the venture with Mr. Zemeckis.

    How much $ did ‘ A Christmas Carol ‘ make ?
    If it’s a profit, someones gonna come knocking.

  • Brian

    I’m actually looking forward to Yellow Submarine

    mainly because Zemeckis will be departing from the attempts at photorealism with Beowulf and cartooned-photorealism with Christmas Carol and will hopefully be going headfirst into completely whacked-out psychedelia with Yellow Submarine. this is what performance capture and modern CG should be aspiring to

    the original yellow submarine just isn’t precious enough to try and save it from being remade into what could potentially be a pioneering film

  • Jamil

    And I hope they stop the Roger Rabbit 3D too

  • Bill Turner

    Yeah, real mixed feelings. It’s a bad time for people to be laid off but Zemeckis’ artistic track record with mo-cap is not good. Pudleiner is right though, if it makes money, someone will do it.

  • Saturnome

    Roger Rabbit 3D? Was it supose to be in 3D? Never heard of.
    I think Richard Williams and his staff is more essential to Roger Rabbit than Zemeckis. I think.

    I certainly wasn’t much looking foward to the new Yellow Submarine, but I hope all these people are going for something more interesting.

    As for the film, if they’re making it anyway, they’ll could do a sequel instead, without calling it “YS2” but simply Yellow Submarine, in order to not ruin the marketing aspect. Just so a little more creativity is involved. That’s what important, not “updating the graphics”.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Glad to have some good news I can be thankful for.

  • mick

    burn hollywood burn

  • Let’s hope that this development puts the kibosh on Zemeckis’ utterly unnecessary mocap remake of YELLOW SUBMARINE. Let him make a mocap version of POUND PUPPIES AND THE LEGEND OF BIGPAW, THE MIGHTY KONG, TOM AND JERRY THE MOVIE or some equally shitty animated feature. (There should be a law against the remaking of GOOD movies.)

  • Lucky Jim

    Yeah, I obviously sympathize with the laid-off crew, but I’m not going to be shedding any tears over the loss of Zemeckis-brand motion capture.

    The downfall for his films I think was his insistence on motion capturing everything, which always resulted in a vaguely unsettling feeling. Say what you will about “Avatar,” but it was correct in its belief that the humans should be live-action, and the aliens should be motion-captured.

  • EHH

    I guess after Avatar, Disney saw that they were going in the wrong direction with mocap.

  • Justin

    Saturnome: There have been a couple times when Zemeckis has commented on the idea of a RR sequel, more than once talking about the new technology and the possibilities that come with them. I dunno if Richard Williams has every commented or really been in a position to be quoted on the subject.

    Williams may be more essential, but Zemeckis was the director of the film. That may count for more in the eyes of the decision makers.

  • Brian

    don’t fall into the trap of assuming “mo-cap is THIS” and “mo-cap is NEVER THAT”

    it’s just a tool. it’s a tool that will be used by many people for many things. don’t be so quick to judge. don’t cling to one medium and assume that pioneers of an infant medium are the enemy, people you want to fail.

    mo-cap is not an antagonist of character animation, and it is a step backward to assume that it is

  • Pedro Nakama

    This is typical Disney starting up an new division and shutting it down after 3 years a la Dream Quest, The Secret Lab and Feature Animation Florida.
    Avatar seems to be the buzz word in town so I imagine Weta will get any new Bob Z films. Sorry Imageworks.

  • This is an interesting development. I hadn’t expected it, but the article lays out the case for Disney’s restructuring, and it seems that Christmas Carol was far too expensive for their tastes. I’m not sure what this means for Zemekis and his mo-cap animation films, and I really wish someone would ask him some questions about future plans.

    I wouldn’t call this the end of Zemekis’ mo-cap movies. It seems that he’ll need enormous sums of money to finance his projects, but the Hollywood conglomerates can shuffle numbers in and out with ease. If they believe he is a profitable draw, they will sign deals and hand over the cash.

    That said, I wouldn’t count out the Yellow Submarine project out just yet. It seems every movie director has one massive, unworkable project in them – a Heaven’s Gate, I suppose. He’ll hold onto that for a long while.

  • I wanna see Zemeckis direct a mocap remake of that “lost” animated feature, GUITAR PICKS AND ROACH CLIPS (which I actually saw in a theatrical release in San Diego!)

  • In a way I’m surprised that Disney is doing this, after all they’ve invested in expanding ImageMovers. On the other hand, Avatar has set the bar for motion capture fairly high, and it’s doubtful that Zemeckis can match it.

    P.S. I took that photo for when I visited the Christmas Carol Train Tour in Portland, Oregon. Here’s a link:

  • Die, mo-cap Yellow Submarine remake! Die die DIE!!!!

  • Andrew Kieswetter

    I also hope the Yellow Submarine remake will die a quick death. I’d rather see Zemeckis direct the long overdue Roger Rabbit sequel than
    do his own version of a movie that doesn’t need to be remade in this day and age.

  • doozer

    Not to be a downer, but I don’t share everyone’s enthusiasm. 450 people just lost their jobs. And it’s really tough to be unemployed right now.

  • Bruce

    Disney is foolish to think this was a wise decision.

    Now all you’re going to be getting out of Disney is more Hannah Montana B.S. and films full of fart jokes headed up by the idiot Rich Ross. How can he possibly fill the quality shoes of Dick Cook who had 30 years of experience at Disney?

    Disney is going down the tubes my friends and Richie and Iger are at it’s helm. Even Pixar isn’t safe from their poison. Just look at what the Lasseter has done since his promotion – now we’re getting all these sequels from Pixar plus the creation of the Vancouver Pixar Stutio that will be creating direct to DVD films and TV shows. Disney is no longer Disney — it has passed it’s torch to Pixar. Now Pixar is no longer Pixar.

    Also, I wouldn’t doubt that because of ‘Princes and the Frog’s’ poor performance that Disney closes it’s 2D animation dept….. AGAIN!!!

  • Julian Carter

    Bruce, if Walt Disney Animation Studios doesn’t generate some quick money, I think it’s more than the 2D unit that will soon go (i.e. the entire thing … shuttered).

  • While the artistic merits of Zemeckis’ mocap productions are certainly an easy target for criticism, his contributions to the film industry on more technical levels cannot be ignored. James Cameron recently noted that Zemeckis’ mocap work was instrumental in helping him develop and complete Avatar.

    The somewhat harsh diatribes against Zemeckis that frequently appear (as evidenced by some of the comments here) seem pretty mean spirited at times. Why?

  • The Obvious

    My heart goes out to all the artists and employees who have been laid off during this difficult time. I’m sure that this event is a bit of a shock.

    I think the problem with the work that Robert Zemekis has been doing, is that it never seemed to evolve from its origins as a purely technical enterprise. This whole endeavor seemed to be a quest to create synthetic biology using CG imagery with story as merely a means of showing it off. This was done with little regard for wether or not that stylistic was appropriate for the stories they were telling .

    Image Movers lacked the kind of visionary mind that has the boldness to decisively drive a narrative behind the aesthetic of a Tyrus Wong, Eyvind Earle, or Mary Blair.

    In my opinion, far too much attention is spent deriding Image Movers and other studios for using the process of motion-capture. Little, if anything, is ever said about the toxic contribution of the modern conceptual artists whose digital speed paintings seem to all be in the same soulless, sanitized and anonymous style.

  • Scarabim

    Well, I’m one who actually *wants* a remake of Yellow Submarine – but a GOOD remake. If it’s done in the style of the trailer from Beatles Rock Band, a remake could be awesome. I hope Disney looks into it. If only Rich Ross weren’t a total dickhead…

  • “Yellow Submarine” doesn’t need to be remade, in mo-cap no less.
    End of story.

  • humming

    No more Zemezkis mo-cap films under Disney = cool
    450 laid off = not cool. I wish them all the best of luck with their futures.

  • Dave

    I have to agree with doozer. 450 getting laid off is not good news and my heart goes out to those people who now enter one of the worst job markets I’ve ever experienced.

  • Klay

    “mainly because Zemeckis will be departing from the attempts at photorealism with Beowulf and cartooned-photorealism with Christmas Carol and will hopefully be going headfirst into completely whacked-out psychedelia with Yellow Submarine”

    You start with a declarative statement, then back it up with “hopefully.”

    Fact is Zemeckis’ Yellow Submarine was yet another photo-real film, with filmic/3D tricks and flourishes. I’ve seen some of the artwork, and it is, indeed, soul-less like everything they’ve produced. Many of the artists at IMD are very talented, but are lead by a former “concept artist” who’s more a technician than a guy full of good (or any) ideas. And then Zemeckis on top of it. It’s so sad.

  • O……kay.

    People gripe about mo-cap, and now that Disney is ending it…. people are griping about that.

    Sure, laying them off was bad, they should have just offered them other jobs.

  • toid

    Good riddance, mocrap.

  • rab smith

    BOB ZEMECKIS made some of the most eye-boggling, innovative, visually-excellent movies of my mid-late 20s, but his more recent obsession with ‘artificial’ cinema yielded some of the most sterile, bloated features of recent years…….get back to basics, Bob, you can still deliver ground-breaking work, but your recent features have been too overstuffed and unhealthy.

    I look forward to seing future projects from you that are ideas-heavy, rather than CGI-heavy.

  • Rooniman

    Oh PLEASE, let Zemeckis version of “Yellow Submarine” die.

  • Klay

    Mo Cap isn’t ending, and Avatar wasn’t the ground breaker. WETA was, and their imaginative use of mocap has set the standard. Mocap improved by a helluva lot of animators.

    And ALL Cinema is “artificial.”

  • cas

    It’s unfortunate that when I’m on this site, the brewmasters’ and the readers’ comments reflect a lot of negativity toward Robert Zemeckis and his current films and that often it borders on hostility and prejudice. Granted it’s all in the past that he breathed new life into animation interest with Roger Rabbit but his mocap films still help to promote interest in animated films no matter what Cameron may say for mocapped characters are animated characters. The characters cannot get on the screen without the artists, modelers, rig builds, sculptors, animators, compositers, programmers, technical directors, et al helping to complete the character – their actions may be motivated by digital data but their look is still wire frame. It is part of the animation genre. It’s doubly unfortunate that many good hardworking folks will be losing their jobs in Marin due to Disney’s rush to improve their balance sheets. And it’s obvious that there are people out there who are glad this is happening for whatever reason but when something like this happens in our film community – it’s going to affect everyone one way or another eventually. Considering what’s happening to state of this country, it would be better if we could band together and support each other. You may not agree with Zemeckis’s approach but give him and other filmmakers the option to do it, you don’t have to watch their movies but they are continuing the tradition that Walt Disney emphasized – keep exploring and trying out new ideas….

  • Keith Paynter

    There was more soul in Coraline’s “other mother”‘s button eyes than in Zemekis’ mo-cap projects…that says a lot.

    Very tough break for the staff, though…

  • Trevor

    Robert Zemeckis is still one of my top 10 favorite directors. He would probably be top 5 if he didn’t give up after a couple tries with this mocap stuff.

  • Klay

    I don’t particularly think Roger Rabbit is a very good film, nor do I believe for one second that the animation in that film is “great.” Some of it is fine, but most of it is muddled, unfocused, and characterless. I don’t blame the animators, I blame Zemeckis for a bad script.

    And Family Dog, Little Mermaid, and Brave Little Toaster breathed new life into animation FAR more than roger rabbit.

    Zemeckis’ fetish with control is out of control. And he’s got no sense of caricature in his design “sense.”

  • Ken

    I agree with jeff peppers here.

    How come EVERYONE insults Zemeckis, especially when there are so many awful movies out there??? His performance caputre paved the way for Avatar, a film nobody dares to insult. What would you guys rather see, MORE Shreks???? More Happy Feets???? Zemeckis showed us that animated films can tell a more serious, in depth story, as reflected by its detailed animation style. Get rid of this and Hollywood esentially limits their output potential. Sure, there are good Pixar movies still, but I would like to see more than Pixar movies.

  • The Obvious


    I agree with a lot of what you say, and I, and many people who have commented on this thread, feel for the artists who are being laid off. Zemekis, however, is absolutely not continuing in the tradition of Walt Disney. Disney tried things, yes, but he also course corrected and innovated while creating a timeless and diverse body of work.

    Mocap technology existed before Zemekis got ahold of it, and he did little to improve it in its sophistication or its use as a tool for making art. Weta’s Gollum burst onto the screen in 2002. “Polar Express” came out in 2004. Since then, we’ve had Davy Jones and King Kong, and the year of “A Christmas Carol” we’ve also had “Avatar.”

    I, like many, think that Zemekis does not know how to make cinema with this technology. I do, however, enjoy many of his past films.

    I agree with you that artists with proven track records should be allowed to explore other methods, but that does not mean they should be humored when they go off the rails.

  • Klay

    ” a film nobody dares to insult”

    I’ll insult it. Avatar was crap. And even I saw it twice! But it was crap (and very ugly, to boot).

    Give me Lord of the Rings. Gollum was done far better, and the stories were more engrossing.

    Give me the Zemeckis that made Used Cars, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and the first Back to the Future.

  • Sylvain

    At last !
    There won’t be any more recurring “I hate Zemeckis” articles, but who will be your new nemesis ? Who will you choose to be the new “enemy of animation” ?

  • Brian Kidd

    YELLOW SUBMARINE is a Classic in that it perfectly captured the tone and design sense of the latter 60’s Psychedelic movement. It also has some witty jokes and fantastic music. A remake that could better the original is simply impossible. Why? It isn’t the Sixties any more and any attempt to emulate the original would be merely an attempt at an impression of what a modern artist thinks of when you say “The Sixties” and not a new and vital work that is the offspring of what is current in the worlds of Film, Art and Music. It’s the difference between the China pavilion at EPCOT and the actual Forbidden City. The EPCOT buildings may be a pretty copy, but that’s all they are.

    As for Zemeckis, I think the vitriol comes out of frustration that a talented Director has wasted years of his life focusing on lifeless technical exercises instead of doing that at which he is good: making live-action films. I’m not against experimentation as an artist, but it was clear from his first effort that he simply doesn’t have the talent to make animated films. That’s okay! True Renaissance Men (or Women) are exceedingly rare.

    I do feel terribly for those folks who have lost their jobs. A steady paycheck nearly always trumps artistic integrity. The failure of the films are certainly not the fault of the people who were simply there to serve the needs of the man at the top. Image Movers’ films were always technically solid, if not artistically successful.

  • cas

    That was a very eloquent response from The Oblivious. He had some very good points.

    Just one more thing – Gollum, King Kong, Davy Jones are mocapped characters in a live action film populated by live actors and abundant vfx – there is a difference and even “Avatar” is a hybrid. Making a full mocap movie is more of a challenge to engage the audience.

    It’s highly possible BZ may never again reach the popular heights he did with “Back to the Future” (since that’s the film everyone here keeps bringing up). But BZ does know animation, he is solely responsible for what’s on the screen for “Roger Rabbit” including the animation (yes, he had help from Richard Williams) but the direction is all his.

    So it will depend on his dedication to the filmmaking process, to story and entertainment and if he doesn’t succeed then someone else should take up the challenge without being hit with comments of “die mocap” or “kill mocap” or “mocap is more crap.”

  • wgan

    at least he’s trying something new, i’ve always lean towards someone who has the guts to do some new stuff instead of sticking with old realm again and again, one back to future is pure gold, ten of them will be loads of horse shit, some other hollywood big guys are doing this shit right now, yet i’ve never seen any of them are so blamed on brew; personally i never fall into any of zmemkis’ mo-cap toys, but after delivering ten craps like that, he might be gaining some abilities to make a classic, do not deny the fact that his mo-caps are technically, aesthetically and emotionally getting better and better despite the initial bar was set very low; i just dont like the trend going around here that insulting his mo-cap seemingly showing your ‘taste’.

  • Sylvain

    I didn’t realize he was under Disney, wasting a part of Disney’s annual expenditures that could have gone elsewhere. Now it makes sense why a certain circle of friends here were so vocal against him, making it so personal. Do you honestly think the budget will now go back to the right place ?

    (this is my usual late night sarcastic opinion, please feel free to delete it)

  • Mark

    ” But BZ does know animation, he is solely responsible for what’s on the screen for “Roger Rabbit” including the animation (yes, he had help from Richard Williams) but the direction is all his.”

    Precisely an example of what Zemeckis DOESN’T know about animation.

  • Ugh I hope they shut him down. I have nothing against 3D, and I love animation. That said, MO-CRAP is NOT ANIMATION!
    As for Bob, he’s lost it. He’s right up there with George Lucas as far as having completely lost his vision as a filmmaker.