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6 days and counting: The Walt Disney Feature Animation-Florida countdown clock ticks on

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6 days and counting: The Walt Disney Feature Animation-Florida countdown clock ticks on

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Ask and ye shall receive.

At the tail end of yesterday's article, I asked Walt Disney Feature Animation-Florida employees to please come forward and share their thoughts about what was actually going on at the Central Florida studio. About 30 WDFAF staffers responded to my request, sending me e-mails of various lengths.

Over the next few days, I'll be sharing a lot of these messages with JHM readers. But -- for now -- why don't we start with one of the more heartfelt, more eloquent e-mails from the pile. This one was written by Brother Bri, an artist who's worked for 10+ years at Walt Disney Feature Animation-Florida:

Thanks for bring some attention to our situation with today's article. Next Monday is certainly D-Day for us.

It's been a tough couple of months interviewing at all the same places the really big guns in the studio have been interviewing. There's nothing like being in line for a job right behind Ruben Aquino and Alex Kuperschmidt.

Of course, those guys will be hired by someone. Of course, anyone involved in digital production on our last few films will be hired. However, the rest of us pencil pushers have been left in a lurch.

It's so sad watching some of the most talented people in the world who (had come to Orlando specifically to work for Disney Feature Animation being let) go. We had representatives from China, Croatia, Australia ... Some of those folks were here on work visas and will have to return home now.

It's really just cruel what they're doing. I know one story of a woman who just moved down to Orlando two weeks before Black Friday to accept a position on "My Peoples." She left a very good job behind in New York and wanted to do something more kid friendly.

I know a man who moved here from Burbank. He was nervous about coming because of the risk of (the WDFA-F staff being laid off and Disney's Central Florida animation studio being shut down). But he was assured that "My Peoples" would happen. So, he sold his house in Burbank, bought a house in Orlando to live in while he began construction on a second house. So, strapped with two mortgages, he was (then) told he'd probably be out of a job in January.

I know a few guys whose wives are in mid-pregnancy. It has to be a pain to find insurance in the middle of a pregnancy. So they'll have to pay out the VERY expensive Cobra payments to birth their children while filing for unemployment.

(Sad as it is to say, Disney Feature Animation-Florida) is already gone, Jim. Many (of our very best) people have had very good offers from other studios and are already gone. Some are waiting to hear what happens next Monday. Disney has offered a few contracts to people on some other projects like "Fraidy Cat," but I'm sure they're not going to sign right away out of mistrust. After all, up until the day (that David Stainton announced that they were pulling the plug on "My Peoples,") we thought we had a picture. Even in the face of unemployment, I'd be wary of accepting any contract from Disney because they're terribly one sided.

"My Peoples" (which is the real title [of WDFA-F's aborted film]. All the others were compromises) was a pretty good movie with charm and wit. It was getting to the point of (being) "overworked" because David Stainton (had gotten) his hands (on) it. Just because there were ghosts (featured in the film) made (David) think that he had a potential Halloween release on his hands, so he made the story crew push the ghost aspect. However, that was playing in such a weird contrast to the romantic bluegrass quality of the music that Dolly Parton, Travis Tritt, and Ricky Skaggs had done.

(Stainton and the story crew back in Burbank had beaten up) this production enough. "My Peoples." "Angel and Her No Good Sister." "A Few Good Ghosts." What was this movie going to be about, anyway? Judging from those three titles, it hadn't found its focus yet.

Other problems plagued the film too. Barry (Cook, the director of "My Peoples") had been working on this (film) since he finished work on "Mulan" back in 1998. However, despite the best efforts from (some) very talented artists (here at Disney Feature Animation-Florida), we were never able to combine the 2D and 3D (elements of the film) successfully. The (picture's) 3D characters were too well rendered and volumetric. (They) contrasted too much with ("My Peoples"'s) 2D characters.

Not to mention the whole compositing nightmare. We had been using a program called CAPS for years. However, (Disney Feature Animation had) spent millions developing a program called CHIP which would combine the very best of CAPS and Shake. However, (the studio opted to scrap CHIP) after years in development right before we were supposed to begin work on "Peoples."

All in all, the last couple of months has been all higgledy piggledy. There's a definite feeling of being stranded here in Orlando because there's no where else to go for work in town! If you weren't an A-Lister (at Disney Feature Animation), you will get left behind. So many of us have planted our roots here and don't want to go. After all, Orlando is an insanely affordable city to live in. Even the lowest on the totem pole could afford a decent house somewhere in town.

Personally, I feel robbed of the year (that) we were supposed to get on production (on "My Peoples" in order) to prepare for the unemployment line. 3D animation is taking over for now. (Me myself? I'd) developed a one year plan to make the transition (from 2D to 3D work. After all, we all) knew (that Disney Feature Animation-Florida) was going to close after (work on "My Peoples" was complete). We would've had that whole production to build our 3D models and animate, (assemble our portfolios, get ready for the change). However, now, we're adrift.

Of course, we (still) have access to (WDFA) facilities and even a few classes to attend on 3D animation. Unfortunately, all of those classes are all introductory. Many of us know how to get around Maya. Most of us just wanted the production experience on "My Peoples."

Even a ** year veteran of the Walt Disney Feature Animation-Florida studio can feel like a college graduate again. Despite all the years of experience, the thing slapping us all in our faces right now is lack thereof. It hurts ... it really hurts ...

Kind of intriguing, don't you think? That these WDFA-F vets feel left in the lurch. Not so much because they're surprised that Disney's Central Florida animation studio is supposed to be shut down. (In fact -- based on a lot of the e-mails that I've received over the past 12 hours -- given what happened earlier this year at WDFA's Parisian studio, many of the Florida folks had already assumed that the same sort of thing was going to happen at the Disney-MGM production facility over the next year or two.) But -- rather -- because that these talented animators and technicians had hoped that they'd at least have "My Peoples" 's year-to-15-month-long production period to get ready for whatever came next.

But to have David Stainton skulk into town and suddenly pull the plug on "My Peoples" last November left many of these artists and technicians without a contingency plan. And then -- to add insult to injury -- to have Disney management postpone any official decision/announcement about what's to become of Disney Feature Animation-Florida 'til January 12th (but -- at the same time -- quietly telling WDFAF veterans that now might be a really good time to start looking for work elsewhere) ... is just cruel and unusual. At least in my way of looking at it.

You'll hear more about how Disney studio execs have cruelly continued to jerk around the WDFA-F staff (all the while refusing to answer any direct press inquiries about what's going to happen next with Disney-MGM's virtually brand-new $70 million animation production facility as well as the talented staff who works there) in the other stories that JimHillMedia.com will be running later this week.

But -- in the meantime -- should any other Disney Feature Animation insiders want to come forward with any additional information about what's really going on in Central Florida, you know where to reach me: [email protected].

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