Disney’s hand-drawn animation department gutted by layoffs

Wide Screen

It’s the end of an era over at the studio responsible for some of the most memorable and groundbreaking animated features of all time.

The death knell for Disney’s hand-drawn animation division -- the force behind classics such as “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Lion King -- has been ringing for some time now, and for further proof of that you need only look to the recent slate of company layoffs.

Last week, news broke that The Walt Disney Company was planning some major job cuts this month, most notably from their production wing, and yesterday, the extent of those layoffs were revealed. The House of Mouse cut some 150 jobs in all, handing out pink slips to some of the most veteran animators at Walt Disney Animation Studios – folks who were integral to the creation of many of the previously mentioned animated classics.

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Former Disney animator Tom Bancroft (“Aladdin”) took to Twitter to reveal the names of some of the animators affected by the job cuts. The list is quite literally a who’s who of top animation talent: names like Nik Ranieri, Ruben Aquino, and Alex Kupershmidt. You might not know their names, but if you’ve ever seen an animated Disney movie you’ve probably enjoyed their work. According to The Animation Guild blog, other animators who survived the initial round of layoffs are being met with to discuss possible wage cuts and/or buyouts. It’s depressing news for any fan of classic Disney animation.

Between these layoffs and Disney shifting its feature film efforts towards computer animation (see: “Wreck-It Ralph”), it’s looking increasingly likely that 2011’s “Winnie the Pooh” will end up being the studio’s final completely hand-drawn animated feature. It’s also possible that these layoffs could have come in response to the success of Disney’s Oscar-winning animated short "Paperman," which utilized a hybrid of modern computer animation and traditional hand-drawn techniques. With the “Paperman” method already winning awards, perhaps the castle that Mickey built is just trying to prepare for the future.

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The animation layoffs come hot on the heels of another high profile Disney outfit – the recently acquired game developer LucasArts – letting all of its staff go. These cost-cutting measures are reportedly part of an internal company review instituted by Disney CEO Bob Iger.

Some of this belt-tightening can likely be attributed to Disney’s tumultuous 2012. Major acquisitions like the $4 billion Lucasfilm buyout and big, big movie flops like “John Carter” probably led to the company reevaluating its financial books. Disney is a major corporation, after all. It's just a real shame that legendary animators need to get the axe in order to satisfy shareholders.