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The Skinny on Circle Seven

Jim Hill

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The Skinny on Circle Seven

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"Do you suppose Circle 7 refers to the seven circles that originally made up Mickey's face?"

Ah, Disneyana fans love a mystery, don't they? After last week's story about Circle 7 Animation, I got dozens of e-mails from JHM readers. Each of them offering up their own theories as to why the Walt Disney Company would give its newest animation studio such a strange name and/or seeking additional information about this new operation.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

As to why the Mouse would name its new toon factory "Circle 7," it was loyal JHM reader R.M. that came up with the most logical explanation:

Photo by Nancy Stadler

After Disney acquired ABC, Disney moved KABC-TV, Channel 7 to the Grand Central Industrial Centre. The same Centre where Walt Disney Imagineering makes its home. A new building, designed by Cesar Pelli (architect of the Petronas Towers in Singapore), was built to house the ABC O&O station for Los Angeles. The station had previously shared space on a common campus with ABC's west coast production studio in Hollywood. Well, things were getting crowded and the best solution was to separate the local operations from the network production.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

The logo for Channel 7 is the number 7 enclosed by a circle. The building was built on what was once Rodier drive. It was renamed Circle 7 Drive when KABC moved in . The building across the street was the building where WDI designed EuroDisneyland. Tony Baxter has had an office there for about 5 years. Then it was taken over by the EPCOT team. It has now been turned over to the new animation unit. Thus the animation unit has become Circle 7 Animation. It's named for the street its on.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

Not terribly imaginative. And not, I would suggest, a name built to last.

Indeed, I keep hearing the same thing. That this "Circle 7" name isn't meant to last. That once the Walt Disney Company and Pixar Animation Studios make a formal decision / announcement about whether or not these two entertainment giants will officially be renewing their co-production / distribution agreement, "Circle 7" will either get a snazzy new moniker ... or disappear entirely.

For now, Mouse House reps are still insisting that Circle 7 Animation is built to last. More to the point, that their Pixar-sequel-studio is already up & running. At the Walt Disney Feature Animation booth at SIGGRAPH last week, a promo film showed Disney employees working on "Toy Story III." Even going so far as show images of animators using WDFA's in-house CG control system to animate Buzz & Woody.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

This same WDFA recruiting film featured select Circle 7 employees saying things like:

The greatest thing about coming on board in the beginning is that we'll be able to look back and say "Hey, I did that." To be part of something that's going to be huge.

One of the most exciting things about doing "Toy Story III" here is that we have a completely new studio & building.

When we moved in here, it was such a new place that there were only 13 of us here.

Now contrast these happy, upbeat comments with the one made by a friend of JHM. Someone I spoke with this past Thursday night about Circle 7 Animation. When I asked him about what he thought about Disney's newest animation studio, this guy was blunt -- to say the least.

"That studio is never going to produce a single frame of finished animation. It's all just a set-up to get Pixar back to the negotiating table."

And indeed, Disney and Pixar are back at the negotiating table. As part of last week's quarterly earnings teleconference, Pixar CEO Steve Jobs said that the conversations he's been having with Mouse House reps were "productive and professional." More to the point, Steve said that he hopes to make a final decision about who Pixar's post-"Cars" production partner will be before Jobs hosts his company's next earnings teleconference. Which is now tentatively scheduled for early November.

Which obviously puts the folks who are already working at Circle 7 in an interesting position. Are these people really working for a studio " ... that's going to be huge" someday? Or will Circle 7 fold like a card table if Pixar & Disney kiss and make up later this year?

Photo by Nancy Stadler

Time will tell, I guess. In the meantime, stay tooned ... tuned ... whatever to JHM, okay?

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