Disney, Zemeckis shingle splitting up

ImageMovers' Marin County facility closing by 2011

Disney is breaking up with ImageMovers, the Disney-based shingle run by Robert Zemeckis, Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey.

Sort of.

The studio announced Friday that it will begin closing operations of ImageMovers' Marin County facility, ImageWorks Digital, where Zemeckis directs his performance-capture movies, after the production company finishes work on "Mars Needs Moms," the adaptation of the Berkeley Breathed kids book being directed by Simon Wells. Disney expects to close the facility by January 2011.

At the same time, however, Disney said it hopes to sign a new long-term deal with the trio that would encompass the now-in-development remake of "Yellow Submarine." Details of such a deal, or how far the dealmaking has progressed, were not forthcoming Friday.

Before Disney, Zemeckis and his partners were housed at Sony, where they produced "Monster House."

The ImageMovers studios occupy two huge converted aircraft hangars on 120,000 square feet on a former Air Force base. At its peak, it employed approximately 450 people.

"Bob and the entire IMD team successfully built a state-of-the-art studio and produced an amazing film, 'A Christmas Carol,' at a time when the dynamics of the industry are rapidly changing," Disney Studios president Alan Bergman said in a statement. "But, 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."

ImageMovers signed a deal with Disney in the beginning of 2007. Despite acquiring several projects, such as "Calling All Robots" and "The Stoneheart Trilogy," and not counting the in-production "Mars Needs Moms," the pact only yielded "Carol." The Zemeckis-directed film grossed $137 million domestically and was considered a boxoffice disappointment.

Disney, under the new management team headed by Rich Ross, may have deemed that the current relationship was too costly given the meager output and the weak results.

And while other digital and effects companies headed by filmmakers sometimes take up other work when not working on the principal's projects, ImageMovers did not.

The shutting down of the facility also comes during a downturn for special effects companies in Southern California. Outfits in other locales around the world, such as Vancouver and India, can do the digital work cheaper. This could be the "alternative ways" to which Bergman referred.