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Laika Lays Off 65; Scraps Jack and Ben


The big animation layoff news of the past week came out of Oregon-based Laika. The Oregonian reported that the studio laid off 65 people and cancelled their post-Coraline followup, Jack and Ben’s Animated Adventure. The CG film had a troubled production history and had been in development at Laika since 2005. Last year, the film’s original writer and director, Jorgen Klubien, left the project over “creative differences.” Mulan director Barry Cook was the new director when the studio pulled the plug. According to a Laika spokeswoman, the studio will make announcements about new projects early next year. My only observation is that if a film still has the words “Animated Adventure” in its title after four years of development, then it’s probably a wise bet to can the idea. Seriously, who’d ever go watch a film titled The Dark Knight: Live-Action Adventure.

(via Mark Mayerson)

  • I am truly sorry to hear this news. I really wanted this studio to succeed. I especially feel bad for the artists who relocated there. Henry Selick is a genius and I hope Coraline is a blockbuster. The trailer looks fascinating, but a bit dark and creepy (not necessarily a bad thing, unless it keeps families away). I don’t know much about the studio, but it doesn’t seem to have the story background that the successful animation studios have. And I don’t know if a shoe maker has the requisite background to run an animation studio. I also question the wisdom of tossing out an animation legend like Will Vinton. Maybe Jan Pinkava (Geri’s Game, Ratatouille) has a brilliant work in progress…no pressure Jan.

  • I don’t mean to throw sneakers at the Nike king, because maybe he was well intentioned. However, it seems another well heeled (no pun intended) business man has finally found it’s not all that easy to run an animation studio.

    I remember the sixties when Hank Saperstein bought UPA, and tried to make a go of it. Sadly, all the talent had already left. Perhaps Mr. Knight should have kept Will Vinton. Otherwise, all he bought was real estate.

    Oh, well. It’ll be a nice write off for another millionaire.

  • Sad news indeed. There was a time when I wanted to be in the animation industry. But with all these job cuts and such, it’s probably not such a good idea. On the plus side, maybe this will spawn a bunch of new different outlets that aren’t so tied to working for the man.

  • Marm

    Whatever happened with “Jack and Ben”, the melting credit market may have had equal blame in keeping Laika afloat until the presumed box office returns of “Coraline” came rolling in to sustain the operation.

  • Iain

    That sucks. Maybe it’s a good time for Laika to bring back Vinton and submit some ideas of his, or maybe it’s time for the studio to make some 2D stuff, or even some 3D or 2D / stop-motion hybrids.

    Yeah, who would want to see a movie with such a title?

  • boy the industry is really collapsing on itself these days isnt it.

    also about the “The Dark Knight: Live-Action Adventure.”

    amid if you aren’t careful, you’re going to give joel schumacher more ideas for batman movies D:

  • I don’t care what you call it, but when people loose their jobs due to bad management whether from within the studio walls or from without, is very sad news. I applaud anyone who tries to maintain any kind of an animation adventure in midst of this economic nightmare. The nation is at an all time high in terms of unemployed and the CEO’s still want their millions in pensions, bonuses and bail out money. I would like to know how to change the title of that movie….?

    Thanks for letting me share

  • Tim

    I have a couple of friends that were caught in that layoff. From what they told me, it was just 65 laid off last week. There have been more like 300 let go over the last 2 months. Of course, some of that is from the wrap of “Coraline”.

  • The whole studio isn’t closing, the House division where they make videos and ad spots is still going.

    I’ve only freelanced at LAIKA(awesome people to work with), but it’s a huge shame that Jack & Ben has hit the skids. Pixar and Dreamworks set some enormous expectations for any animation studio hoping to produce features regularly. But it doesn’t just take huge amounts of capital to make movies – it takes a magical combination of canny, artistic, visionary people in charge which most studios still struggle to find.

  • Bobby D.

    Let’s be clear here…they pulled the plug on a project, not the studio. They have a ton of development money and some cool projects floating around. I’ll be interested in seeing what they put together over the next couple of years. There’s a lot of talent up there…a couple of good ideas meet with some good scripts and directors and they should be fine. But, I too know people let go from “Jack & Ben” and it REALLY sucks.

  • Paul McDonald

    I feel bad for Barry Cook. He’s a super nice guy and a talented director, and he keeps getting the rug pulled out from under him.
    Hang in there Barry.

  • matt

    Aaarghh. So they nearly made it to Coraline but couldn’t quite keep them on? Or the usual letting crew go after a project – where these 65 from Jack & Ben in particular and the earlier ones from Coraline? And when does Coraline open anyway? Apologies for all the questions.

  • oh no! that seriously bums me out. i had a chance to see barry talk and had the priviledge to chat with him at the 2d or not 2d festival up here in seattle. as paul mcdonald said best “he’s a super nice guy and a talented director.”

    i hope he at least got to avoid the crazy snow storms up here and is getting to enjoy his family down in florida. :(

  • Jorgen Klubien

    I would just like to say here on Cartoon Brew, that I didn’t “leave the project over creative differences”, I was fired from the project. Laika didn’t like our script, even though I felt it was a very decent first and second draft co-written by myself and Jeff Bushell. (of “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” whom I had met while working on Curious George.)

    During my many years both at Disney’s and at Pixar, I had come to believe that for animation a script is only a starting off point. I had observed and experienced how a lot of the best work get’s worked out in the story department by the story board artists who also come to actually write the pictures they work on, both visual and written.

    However, Laika didn’t what to follow that path to good animation writing, as a matter of fact at one point they told me “we don’t want to hear how they do things at Pixar ever again.” Also Henry Selick, the creative director, kept hammering home the point to Laika’s management that, “the script’s the thing”.

    I was very, very sad to leave my project and Portland, let me make that clear, and it was Laika’s “creatively different want” that did me in up there I believe.

    I feel bad for the people that has now been laid off from “Jack And Ben” but also believe the bulk of the 65 came off “Coraline”. There were only 5 to 10 people max. working on “Jack and Ben” lately, as Henry Selick had taken over all my best people almost two years ago when I was let go and as he needed them on “Coraline”.

    I believe this all comes down to Travis Knight finally deciding that Laika won’t try the Disney/Pixar type family animation any time soon, and instead position themselves as the place that does off the beaten path type movies, something I feel is a totally understandable creative decision. And I have to admit, in an odd sort of way, I feel allright that my story of “Jack and Ben” won’t be finished and “improved” by someone else.

    My best to everyone and a Merry Christmas too.

  • Creepy

    Jack and Ben was probably their best bet at having a family friendly successful film. Coraline technically looks great but I doubt families will flock to see it.

  • Jorgen Klubien

    …Oh, yeah, about the title “Jack And Ben’s Animated Adventure”. It was a working title that was intended to communicate what it was we were doing at Laika, namely “animation”.

    But I renamed it way before my departure. On all scripts of mine, First draft, Second and Third draft, it was simply “Jack And Ben”.


  • Bobby D.

    The Great Debate…a script that’s a jumping off point…or a tight, funny “bells and whistles” script. It’s worked both ways for years, some people need to see it on the page, while others need to play with it on pin-up boards to make it work for them. Even Pixar goes at it both ways…they can get a beautifully written Andrew Stanton or Brad Bird script…or play the “board it and we’ll find the story” game that Lasseter and Pete Doctor play. Although of late, the script is king at Pixar, TS3 was written by a hired gun, big league Hollywood screenwriter. I think everyone feels a lot better when starting with a “bullet-proof” screenplay. And when chasing investors, a big league script may be the best path.

  • I would suspect that if Coraline even does reasonably well, Laika will do another stop motion film. There is definitely sufficiently strong internal support for doing so. The CG Film division was completely separate from the Coraline production when I was out there, so them ending their CG production does not mean they won’t do another film. Their CG commercial division is still going strong as well. It is sad for all the people who relocated to Portland to work in the film division, but given they spent over 3 years on the project with nothing to show for it, not surprising it got canned.

  • Lisa Reinert

    Barry Cook, what a wonderful story teller he is. I’ve faith he will show up on something wonderful.

  • Thomas-Bo Huusmann

    I do not believe that developement of stories, are best told in one way over the other way.

    It is all about how the specific filmmaker they hire, believe is best. I question why companies hire talented people and then just holds them back.

    I do not know what scared LAIKA off. But Jorgen Klubien should have had the freedom, to work the way that makes him work best.
    If that is the “pixar-way”. Then that is the way for that specific project.

    I wish the best for all involved.

  • TheOpinionater

    If you wanna talk about who got screwed here, one person got it worse than any and that’s Jorgen Klubien!! They took his movie, destroyed it and shot him in the back.