In a cost-saving move, Walt Disney Studios is shutting down Robert Zemeckis' ImageMovers Digital studio in Marin County, which employs 450 people. Those employees will be phased out over the course of the year until the facility closes by January.
The director and producer's San Rafael-based studio, which Disney has been bankrolling, produces motion-capture animation technology that was used in Zemeckis' 2009 big-budget holiday movie "A Christmas Carol."
"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 Studios President Alan Bergman said.
Disney Studios has been aggressively cutting costs by consolidating operations, slashing overhead and reining in production and marketing budgets.
"A Christmas Carol" cost the studio hundreds of millions of dollars to make and promote. The motion-capture technology Zemeckis used appeared outdated in the wake of James Cameron's "Avatar," which employed a more advanced technique. The movie generated $324 million in ticket sales worldwide.
ImageMovers is 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 animated Beatles film "Yellow Submarine."
Disney said the studio was "hoping to create a long-term production deal" with Zemeckis and his IMD partners, Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey, which would include the development of "Yellow Submarine."
Disney has been in partnership with Zemeckis for the last four years. The studio and filmmaker have had an association since 1988 when Zemeckis directed the groundbreaking hit "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"