In a move with broad implications for the future of the animation business, TMZ.com has learned that The Walt Disney Company has poached Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis from DreamWorks Pictures, and is a cat’s breath away from signing his ImageMovers production company to a multi-year deal at Disney Pixar Animation.
Disney paid $7.4 billion to acquire Pixar Animation last January, but that company’s chief creative officer, John Lasseter, has been reluctant to tamper with Pixar’s venerated tradition of Â– like Ernest & Julio Gallo Â– serving ‘no wine before its time’ Â– which at Pixar usually means a new film every 18 months or so. As one insider with knowledge of the ImageMovers negotiations explained, that’s not enough for Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook. Said the insider: “Pixar’s output is their output, and they feel that the only way they can keep the quality control where they need it is to keep going at the pace they’ve been going. But Bob Iger feels that while Pixar was a good first step into making sure Disney is the preeminent force in animation, it’s only the first step.” Cook has been a long time fan of Zemeckis, who despite winning the Best Director for the live-action “Forest Gump,” has of late become enthralled with so-called “motion capture” film-making. Tom Hanks was morphed into an ancient train conductor in Zemeckis’ “The Polar Express.” Zemeckis has apparently all-but-retired from making live-action films, concentrating instead on motion-captured films, like the forthcoming “Beowulf,” which will be released by Sony in the States and Warner Bros. overseas. If you’re noticing an odd pattern here, it’s this: Despite being one of the preeminent film directors of his generation, and despite having been all but joined at the hip with Steven Spielberg at DreamWorks Pictures almost since its inception, none of Zemeckis’ motion capture films have been released by DreamWorks. Zemeckis is said to be deeply disappointed with his years at DreamWorks, which is now part of Paramount Pictures. So badly did the lack of deal-making at DreamWorks strain his relationship there, that Zemeckis tried to decamp four years ago. At the last minute, Spielberg called Zemeckis, beseeching him not to leave, and promising that things would be different. As it happened, things weren’t. In the interim, Zemeckis’ new-found motion capture passion isn’t just appealing creatively: His latest film, “Monster House,” is reported to have cost only $75 million, or less than half of what a typical Pixar film budget looks like. Most appetizing to Disney is the idea that a CG-style film could be made at such a reduced price, and still do well without needing to fill 4,000 theaters to capacity nationwide. Calls to a Disney spokesperson were not returned at deadline, and a spokesman for Zemeckis declined comment on the talks. An official announcement could come as early as next week.