Disney Shutting Down Robert Zemeckis' ImageMovers Studio

March 12, 2010
Source: LA Times


While this should be an obituary, to me it's cause for celebration. At the beginning of the decade, the once great director Robert Zemeckis gave up on live-action and dedicated himself to only making CGI movies (The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol). Even though A Christmas Carol was a mild success for Disney ($137 million at the box office), the studio has decided to shut down Zemeckis' ImageMovers Digital studio in Marin County (near San Fran) as reported by the LA Times. The company will officially close its doors in January of 2011 once they finish work on the Zemeckis produced film Mars Needs Moms!.

The LA Times says it's a "cost-savings move" and the 450 employees at ImageMovers Digital will be phased out over the rest of the year until they close next January. "Given today's economic realities, we need to find alternative ways to bring creative content to audiences and IMD no longer fits into our business model," Disney President Alan Bergman said. Disney was one of the primary investors in the ImageMovers studio when it opened in 1997. They're still "hoping to create a long-term production deal" with Zemeckis, since they don't want to burn bridges, but he'll soon be without a studio. We're not sure what this means for his Yellow Submarine remake in the works or other projects in development, but I'm sure they'll still continue.

So why am I happy that ImageMovers has shut down? Shouldn't I be sad about losing a good company? No way! This has been something I've wanted to see happen for a long time and I'm so pleased to see the execs at Disney step up and shut down a studio that really didn't need to exist anyway. Sure, Zemeckis may have been using groundbreaking CGI back in 2004 when he was working on The Polar Express, but his last few movies have shown that not only has he lost his touch as a director, but the CGI is completely mediocre in comparison to Avatar and just about every other CGI movie, too. Out with the old, in with the new, I say!

Although Disney obviously funded ImageMovers, I never expected them to be the ones to shut it down, I thought it would always exist (and Zemeckis would keep making those damn CGI movies). I guess I should clarify - I'm not happy about people losing their jobs. However, this is good news because it may now force Zemeckis to consider returning to live-action, which is what he needs to do. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of seeing his CGI movies. Similar to how Pres. Obama made the General Motor's CEO step down in order to get that company on the right track, this is a decision that Disney's execs made that is certainly for the better. I fully support it and hope that this helps get Zemeckis back on the right track. Your thoughts?

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Who? What?

Jason on Mar 12, 2010


Although i found most of the CGI Zemeckis movies nor impressive or entertaining, i thought Beowulf gave us some of the best CGI-acting performances of the pre-Avatar era. After that i havent seen any important improvements from their part on the CG movies field.

Dreckent on Mar 12, 2010


Little different with Obama and Disney. Disney has a right to shut down the studio, as they are heavily invested in it. Obama, on the other hand, over stepped his bounds as the chief executive. The government never should have used tax payer money to bail out a failing company, and the government definitely shouldn't have involved itself in replacing senior executives. Now that the mini rant is over, I completely agree with you about Zemeckis. I don't think too many people cared for his movies lately, and this might be the push he needs to go back to live-action.

Bob on Mar 12, 2010


so sad.

Xerxex on Mar 12, 2010


So how the hell is Avatar groundbreaking while Robert Zemeckis' attempts failed?

Paulo on Mar 12, 2010


#5 - Who are you asking? Me? I don't think his attemps failed, I think they were good (like what #2 said), but he's now obsolete. If you saw A Christmas Carol you'd know what I'm saying. ImageMovers was behind the times and they needed to be shut down.

Alex Billington on Mar 12, 2010


I'm sure as hell am not weeping for the shutting down of a CG movie studio. Bring back traditional animation!

Vazel on Mar 12, 2010



sjophotography on Mar 12, 2010


Can't agree with this thinking at all. I'm not so crazy about the new all-CGI Zemeckis but anticipating (not to mention celebrating) hundreds of people losing their jobs? Ridiculous. I think you're confusing the career of a single filmmaker with the livelihoods of an entire studio. If Zemeckis wants to continue making CGI movies like he has been, I'm sure he'll find a way to do it no matter what. Those 450 employees at ImageMovers probably won't be so lucky.

Robert on Mar 12, 2010


Completely agree with Robert on his comment. You just have to think a bit more while writing these arguments instead of just ranting on the fact that Zemeckis lost his director touch so this company deserves to go down the drain. Well, then again, I guess the only way you will be satisfied is if all studios shut down and Pixar will be running the animation industry single-handedly. Oh and you know, once thousands of people are jobless.

David K. on Mar 12, 2010


anyone who doesn't see what Zemeckis is doing is idiiot....enough said..

idiot on Mar 12, 2010


Beowulf was excellent CGI. accept for the eyes. watch the movie again, the eyes are dead

Colt on Mar 12, 2010


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 fool 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 friend and Richie and Iger are at it's helm. Even Pixar isn't safe from their poison. Just look at what the sellout 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. Sad day. Also, I wouldn't doubt that because of 'Princes and the Frog's' poor performance that Disney closes it's 2D animation dept..... AGAIN!!!

bruce on Mar 12, 2010


Yellow Submarine was given the red light ever since Rich Ross stepped in. It was never going to happen anyway. And based on everything I've seen (and that's a LOT) Mars Needs Moms looks absolutely fucked up. Zemeckis really needs to take a crash course in semiotics and understand the difference between aesthetics that work for young families and aesthetics that work for the District 9 crowd. The two do not go together.

underscore on Mar 13, 2010


I never bought a single 3 - second clip of ANYTHING this studio produced , from Polar - f@cking Express's freaky deaky plastic anima-doll voodoo zombies to Christmas Carol's horrendous DENIAL OF JOBS TO ACTUAL TALENTED MAKEUP ARTISTS. There are people on this thread snapping about jobs lost. HOW ABOUT WASTING AN ENTIRE INDUSTRY, (Prosthetics , animatronics) FOR A FAR< FAR< FAR< FAR INFERIOR PRODUCT AND PROCESS, using fewer, less talented technicians (I reFUSE to call them artists. They clearly never cared about their final products enough to get the fundamentals of EYE performance right: "The Truth is in the EYES") . Zemeckis should be put in his place . His WORKERS will find other work. (Our "used car" ads are gonna start looking a LOT cooler.) It's time to just focus on making GOOD. MOVIES. With: (ta-daaa - drumroll ! ! ! ) REAL. PEOPLE !

Django on Mar 13, 2010


The Polar Express failed to deliver back in the day, but we have to give him the credits for trying and pushing for these kind of movies using advanced techniques. It's sad he was never able to push the envelope en create something that DID work after that. I've never understood why Zemeckis keeps getting the opportunity to make these kind of films. His flair was long gone. It was obvious he was not the kind of director who had the control he needed to have over these kind of technical movies. This is better for all of us.

Rickmeister on Mar 13, 2010


Is really too bad IMD is closing down, I'm sure is full of talented people who didn't deserve that. Too bad Zemeckis and his team never figured out how to do it right.

almartva on Mar 13, 2010


For me, the sooner we stop relying on CGI as a means rather than a tool, the better. I'm glad to see Disney has started making traditional-looking 2D animated movies again. Not that I didn't enjoy movies like 'Monsters Inc.' and 'The Incredibles' just when the animation industry was beginning to boom again back in the mid-90's, 'Toy Story' comes out and shortly after all these studios begin shutting down: Hanna Barbara, Warner Brothers feature animation, Fox Animation studios and even Disney shuts down it's own Orlando studio in favor of the new wave of CGI Animation. The rest, as they say, is history.

twittwit on Mar 13, 2010


Personally, I loved Beowulf and A Christmas Carol and I find this news to be very sad. 450 people are losing their jobs! This as*hole writer thinks it's a cause for celebration. What a dick!

HelveticaConspiracy on Mar 13, 2010


A certain sort of filmmaker always wants to get ahead of the present technology and... well, they would probably say 'reinvent the form,' though what they are usually doing is more like making a credit grab for innovations that were inevitable. If you ask me, computers have pretty much burned everyone who has tried this lately: Watch "Titanic" these days; it looks like a video game. "Avatar" seems visually amazing now, and yet history makes me wonder if in ten years it won't be full of cheezy digital "tells" we cannot yet see. In terms of Zemeckis, he is absolutely on the right track: Movies in the near future will be shot in office parks without lights, sets, costumes or make-up, let alone multiple "set-ups." The results will be photorealistic, and everyone will be better off, from the young filmmakers able to self-produce their blockbuster to our friends, the trees. But we're not there yet, and all Zemeckis did was prove it.

mattheww on Mar 13, 2010


I could not have put it any better. He's really not gone anywhere creatively since 2004. The best CGI film he made was Beowulf. The others have just seen the technology exceed the other parts of the filmmaking. HH

Have Hope on Mar 13, 2010


Of course it is bad that people are losing their jobs as Alex pointed out, if you bothered to read the article. Why he was celebrating was that this would force Zemeckis to go back to making traditional films which he has been far better at than his CGI ones. If Disney have a heart, they should help those employees by setting up a subsidiary in one of their many large sectors. It would be sad for all of them to just be let go. Di$ney do have the money to help them, that I am sure of. HH

Have Hope on Mar 13, 2010


Excellent. Capitalism is working when it puts and end to crappy "art" like this. "Up" was a CG hit, that raked in cash and it should have been. These movies failed and they should have.

Gonnarentit on Mar 13, 2010


Oh, I read the author's little attempt at sympathy. Doesn't change the fact that his reasoning is retarded. Zemeckis will continue to make CGI movies, with or without Disney. Beowulf was a much more entertaining film, to me, than Avatar. Besides, his work made Avatar possible. I just find it insulting to all the hard working creatives at Image Movers that this writer celebrates them losing their job with his BS reasoning that it will move Zemeckis back to live action films. It won't. Especially now that Cameron beat him at his own game. He'll be itching to kick his ass...

HelveticaConspiracy on Mar 13, 2010


Like all things liked or disliked it's a matter of personal taste. There are no perfect movies or poems. Bob Z has repeatedly shown amazing courage as he has pushed the boundaries both in live action, CGI, and performance capture. You can look back and make critiques like "the eyes are dead" the characters are doll like. You can make similiar comments going back to when sound was introduced into film.. "it sounds tinny" or "the sinc is off" or back to when color came to film..."it looks cartoony, painted" or you can enjoy the performance for what it is and where it can go. All film experiences, as well as all story tellings, require a bit of imagination on the viewers part. For my taste and apparently millions of others, Bob's story telling has been and always will be top notch. You can make a heartfelt film out of two dots if you can tell a story. Bob has that quality plus the courage to boldy go forward, even when the technology is not perfect yet...as it never will be. A story teller needs inspiration to move forward and if Bob's comes from performance capture then so be it. Avitar set the bar higher, yes...and it was all about MONEY and cheats. The eyes look alive because they are huge and self illuminating. Not to mention the ENORMOUS budget. If you saw Benjamin Button you saw what was possible if you put all the money into one head. In the first 52 minutes of that film Pitt's character(s) are pure digital performance capture, color and lighting... and it's scary real, but cost a ton of dough. As for celebrating lost jobs in this economy shame on you..that made the rest of your comments seem as ignorant as that one. The one thing you can count on not changing in the movie industry is change itself. It's all a matter of taste from there.

Dave Rand on Mar 13, 2010


If you look at it one way , its simply a matter of Cameron winning the race. The objective? To bridge the Uncanny Valley. (Uh boy, here we go.) And don't get me wrong, I love the STORY of the Polar Express, Beowulf, and Christmas Carol. But we're talking about execution, and Avatar has sent studios scrambling. (Wh-wh-we gotta make everything 3-D! Like - tomorrow!) Avatar's technical feats, it turns out - are not a matter of taste at all! So many people reacted against the "Look" and "Design" of Avatar at first, but what wins you over is the literally fractal-level of detail of its world, & the proportionally believable moments of its characters. There's no taste about it. Making another of these films would be like releasing 8-Bit Nintendo games in 2010 and expecting to reap a massive profit. I was a vocal dissident against it but - the fact is: JAMES CAMERON has REVOLUTIONIZED our eyeballs! And there ain't no turning back!

Django 3000 on Mar 13, 2010


I rekon some other company will buy Image Movers Digital instead. The Polar Express was Robert Zemeckis' most ambitious animation as nobody, had ever attempted to create a motion capture (performance capture) feature film prior to The Polar Express. It was the Toy Story of motion capture.

Jeeze on Mar 14, 2010


Maybe we can get that Roger Rabbit sequel made now...

i'm just drawn that way on Mar 14, 2010


@Jeeze And it scared the shit out of me to the point where I steered my easily frightened nephews far away from an expansive adaptation of a beloved children's book - simply b/c it was already giving me nightmares (or a robotic humanoid takeover - starting w/ Tom Hanks). I'm just sayin'. First is the worst. Second is the best. Third is Avatar. (or maybe 2nd is Avatar. 3rd is Christmas Carol.)

Django 3000 on Mar 14, 2010


Zemeckis has gone from a guy who created live action movies full of charm to CG movies with no charm whatsoever. It's a shame he's ditched live-action movies for this.

SlashBeast on Mar 14, 2010


#30 - Well I suppose Zemeckis has been experimenting with a new film medium, and it hasn't quite worked out. The artists, while highly skilled, haven't been able to remove the uncanny valley weirdness of the characters in his movies. Beowulf is probably his most successful attempt (even though Ray Winstone is very voice-miscast).

merry-go-round broke down on Mar 14, 2010


I don't think Avatar is necessarily the 'way of the future' for motion-capture films, either, to be honest. There is a role for Special Effects in movies. Avatar was a film set on a planet with creatures that would have made it difficult to make without a massive amount of CG. Sure, he could have written it differently to make it filmable on earth, but it probably would have lost a lot of it's charm. Zemeckis' CG films are an entirely different thing. Those were not 'animated' films. They were special-effect driven live-action films without the live-action part. Animation studios don't use motion capture for a reason. If that's all they were going for, Pixar could have been using it for at least a decade. Animated films are animated by animators because motion capture doesn't work. It looks horrible. There's already a book out there that explains this - The Animator's Survival Kit - but to boil it down, his characters are too simplified to register as 'real', yet their movements are too 'real' to register as simple. The things don't move like cartoons, but they don't look real. His shit is wedged directly inside the uncanny valley. It doesn't LOOK real, but it moves that way, and some of his earlier stuff especially is just headache inducing. You can't ever stop thinking about the graphics and the animation, and that doesn't make for movies that you want to watch multiple times. No matter how good the story and characters might be, you just can't get over the damn visuals and how they just aren't right somehow. There are so many big new technologies popping up right now, I'm starting to wonder if it's not going to end up biting us all in the ass later. Honestly, how many of the big-budget special-effects movies do you watch more than once? How many of them are we going to give a shit about in a decade? I think the rest of the artform is being weakened while the emphasis on effects is overruling plot, characters, acting, editing and everything else. This is basically Effectsploitation.

Squiggly_P on Mar 14, 2010


I'm with you on this Alex. Zemeckis was once one of my fav filmmakers and the last time I had an great time watching one of his films was ten years ago when I saw "Cast Away". His motion-capture films suck. Zemeckis do everyone a favor and leave animated films to those guys at Pixar!

last son on Mar 14, 2010


really sad for the 450 artists....and the comments by the author are insensative at best.

Clover on Mar 15, 2010


On the side of the artists who were fired - tragic. Step away from the movies for two seconds and realize that big business - Disney, in this case - just closed down a small town's worth of dreams and jobs. Just like that. That's the real story here. Not - trimming the fat. Closing an entire studio down. That's harsh. And although I wasn't buying their product - that's what's happening all across this country. One can only hope this would mean more employment for traditional animators - that the silver lining is Disney's revision of their animation budget, realizing it still costs less to use the tried & true talents of traditional artists than to dump oodles of money into an unproven technology.

My Eyes Say Yeah but my brain says ... I DUNNO! on Mar 15, 2010


I spurn the term 'Motion Capture' today, just as I spurned the term 'Rotoscoping' 30+ years ago. When used for an effect, it was great. When used as the foundation for an entire film, it was soulless and as another poster mentioned, without 'charm'. I consider neither as an art form.

twittwit on Mar 15, 2010


@36 - Cameron would flap and spit and tell you he does "Performance Capture" instead.

88 miles per hour on Mar 16, 2010


I hope Zemeckis starts actually making movies again, you know with real actors and film.

Moe on Mar 17, 2010


#31 - merry-go-round broke down Fuck you bitch! Like I fucking care.

SlashBeast on Mar 18, 2010


Explain yourself... if you can.

merry-go-round broke down on Mar 18, 2010


@ Slash Beast Impressively inarticulate.

My Eyes Say Yeah but my brain says ... I DUNNO! on Mar 18, 2010


#41 - My Eyes Say Yeah but my brain says ... I DUNNO! Fuck you whore, I'll articulate all over your tight little asshole. #40 - merry-go-round broke down Fuck you, giving these bitch-ass anecdotes, I don't fucking care what you have to say you bitch.

SlashBeast on Apr 12, 2010


Gotta admit. Thta's the first time I done been cawled a who-er, Slash Bee-otch.

My Eyes ... MY EYES !!! on Apr 12, 2010


The facts are more complicated then any of the posters on here know. The facts are this, Lasseter and the higher ups at Pixar hated IMD from the beginning. Not because they were animation purists, because IMD threatened their monopoly of power within corporate Disney. Despite Pixars touchy feely image they are a very Machiavellian company that sees only one way to do animation, and that is the Pixar war. Anything else is a threat. They are myopic and have huge egos over there. Zemeckis was another 800 lb gorilla within Disney and there wasn't enough room for he and Lasseter, as far as Lasseter was concerned. The Pixar guys toured IMD when they were breaking ground and basically told IMD they would fail and Pixar eventually made it so. Of course it took 4 years, but when Dick Cook stepped down Zemeckis lost his one powerful ally in the upper echelons of corporate Disney and Lasseter basically pulled the plug first chance he got. Zemeckis is allowed to keep making movies because they turn profits, and IMD would have generated profits for Disney for years to come, but it was not about that. As to Cameron and Avatar, its Apples to Oranges. Zemeckis pioneered most of the tech used on Avatar and the difference between James Cameron and Robert Zemeckis is Cameron make sure the world sees him as a genius that will reinvent cinema at every turn. He love PR and has an ego the size of...The Titanic. If it was up to Cameron he would like you to believe he alone made Avatar and the hundreds of employees that worked on it were inconsequential. Zemeckis is the opposite, he shy's away from the spotlight and craves creative collaboration. He is humble where Cameron is want to carve his face on mountains. Avatar always looks anachronistic and to say it looks any more sophisticated technologically from A Christmas Carol doesnt know the tech behind it all. The tech and the people behind it were largely the same. Many of the folks worked on both movies anyway. Zemeckis pioneered most of this tech while Cameron was still on sabbatical after Titanic. Zemeckis also championed Peter Jackson in the 90s when he was nobody in Hollywood, which allowed him to go on and eventually make the Lord of the Rings trilogy which in turn allowed Weta to flourish. This in turn allowed Cameron to make Avatar, so in a very real sense, there would be no Avatar without Zemeckis mentoring Peter Jackson. The ignorance about this stuff in the blogasphere and especially with cranky, lazy entertainment Journalists is staggering and infuriating. Bashing Bob Z is in right now, but its unfounded and its tragic to see such a good man be tarred and feathered while others egomaniacs in Hollywood get a free pass and are lauded.

clint on May 29, 2010


#43 - My Eyes ... MY EYES !!! That's because you ARE a whore, you queer.

SlashBeast on Nov 7, 2010


#44 - clint OR - it could just be because Zemeckis' latest animation attrocities are just that - attrocities. Is it cruel to suggest that his films are critically thrashed and bomb at the box office because they suck REALLy hard? Pixar know how to entertain, Zemeckis has forgotten how. Pixar's films make money, Zemeckis' don't. Pixar knows animation, Zemeckis is just goofing off.

Governor on Nov 7, 2010


It looks like My Eyes ... MY EYES !!! is now Django. Still a whore.

SlashBeast on Apr 1, 2011

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