Following a couple of slow production years north of the border, Disney is closing its Vancouver and Toronto offices this spring. Laurel Whitcomb, VP of publicity at Walt Disney Television Animation in L.A., says the production boom that prompted the opening of the Canadian studios in 1996 and 1997 has been scaled back. In fact, the studios’ employment rosters have been trimmed for a year because productions assigned to them have been reconsidered.
‘It became apparent that we wanted to spend more time on the story and development side of those pictures,’ Whitcomb says. ‘We still have as many properties in development and in the pipeline, but in terms of being in active production, we do not have the accelerated production schedule that we had anticipated at the time. As a consequence, we aren’t really able to maintain a third studio outside of Burbank.’
At their peak, the studios employed a combined work force of 225 people. The 50 remaining jobs will be eliminated when Walt Disney Animation Canada is dissolved as a corporate entity. Disney Vancouver has already closed its doors, while Toronto will maintain a skeleton staff until the spring. The lease runs out in April, which would indicate the logical official end to Disney’s Canadian experiment.
Robin Budd, who is helming the direct-to-video production of Peter Pan, is one of the few left in the Toronto office. He says Disney is sending him ‘overseas’ to finish the project, for which the storyboard and Leica reel phases were completed in Toronto.
The Canadian closings come as good news to Canada’s top animation houses, which had seen many of their best talent move to Disney. ‘The people that are left there are contacting us,’ says Deborah Fallows, director of recruiting at Nelvana in Toronto.
Disney Canada contributed to, or completed, a number of DTV productions in the last four years, including Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World and A Valentine for You, Winnie the Pooh.