According to former Disney animator Tom Bancroft on Twitter, Disney gutted their hand-drawn animation division this afternoon, and laid off nine veteran animators, including some of the studio’s biggest names: Nik Ranieri, Ruben Aquino, Frans Vischer, Russ Edmonds, Brian Ferguson, Jamie Lopez and Dan Tanaka. Two of the animators who still have jobs are Eric Goldberg and Mark Henn. The news of cuts in their animation division was leaked last week, but I, for one, did not anticipate that all these top animators would be let go. We’ve reached out to the studio for comment.
UPDATE: According to Aaron Blaise in the comments, Alex Kupershmidt was not among those laid off.
UPDATE #2: The Animation Guild reported that 9 veteran animators were laid off today so there are still two names that are unknown.
UPDATE #3: And now the Animation Guild is reporting in the same link above that, “Other veterans are being called in to meetings to discuss pay cuts and/or buyouts.”
UPDATE #4: In light of Disney’s dismantling of their hand-drawn animation division, this Animation Guild post from last October suggests that Disney execs, including Lasseter, had decided a while ago that hand-drawn animation was no longer a part of Disney’s gameplan. In the post, an anonymous staffer at Disney lodges the following complaint to union rep Steve Hulett:
We’re developing a bunch of different projects to show John Lasseter. It’s a complicated process. We pitch to a development group, they tell us which ones they like, then tell us that people who’re pitching need to develop three pitches for John, since he likes artists showing him three things.
And when we do pitch, it’s made clear to us that the stories aren’t necessarily for a hand-drawn project. When we’ve brought it up with John Lasseter, he’s shied away from commiting to a hand-drawn feature …
UPDATE #5: There’s a long-ish piece at Business Insider that explores reasons for the broader company-wide layoffs at Disney. They include the dying DVD market (and sluggish sales of Brave and Cinderella) as well as the $50 million write-down on Henry Selick’s cancelled stop motion project. Of course, the hand-drawn animation division layoffs are simply because Disney is moving away from drawn animation.