Disney to close Zemeckis studio, lay off 450

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Walt Disney Co plans to close director Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers Digital facility in Northern California, laying off 450 workers there, or more than 5 percent of its movie studio division.

Movie producer Robert Zemeckis attends a news conference during ShoWest at the Paris Las Vegas hotel March 17, 2005, in Las Vegas, Nevada. REUTERS/Ethan Miller

Disney will shut down IMD and lay off those workers as it wraps up production on “Mars Needs Moms,” an animated film that will hit theaters a year from now.

The plan to close IMD comes as Rich Ross, recently appointed chairman of Walt Disney Studios, shakes up the company’s movie division to focus on films that can be leveraged across other platforms, including toys and video games.

“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,” Alan Bergman, president of Walt Disney Studios, said in a statement.

The last movie to emerge from IMD was the November 3-D release “A Christmas Carol,” which took in $324 million at worldwide box offices and reportedly cost $175 million to produce.

IMD’s past films include 2007’s “Beowulf” and 2004’s “Polar Express,” two films that helped usher in Hollywood’s latest wave of 3-D movies.

In September, then-Walt Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook announced that Zemeckis would work on a 3-D remake of rock band The Beatles’ 1968 film “Yellow Submarine.”

On Friday, Disney said it hopes to create a new, long-term production deal with Zemeckis and his IMD partners, Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey, to cover continued development of their “Yellow Submarine” film.

“Mars Needs Moms,” IMD’s last project, is based on a picture book by “Bloom County” cartoonist Berkeley Breathed.

Disney’s studio division employs about 8,000 people.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Richard Chang