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Very unexpected news from the Disney camp today: the studio has just issued a press release saying that, after production finishes on Mars Needs Moms, the Robert Zemeckis studio ImageMovers Digital will be closed in 2011.

We don’t have a lot of details on the closing right now, but a statement from Walt Disney Studios president Alan Bergman says it all:

Bob and the entire IMD team successfully built a state of the art studio and produced an amazing film, A Christmas Carol, at a time when the dynamics of the industry are rapidly changing. But, 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.

In other words, the movies from IMD are quite expensive, and if A Christmas Carol is any indication, they’re not making the sort of money the new Disney regime would like. The press release says that a new production deal may be formed to continue work on the Yellow Submarine remake, but I wonder what this really means for that project.

The LA Times reports that 450 people will be laid off as operations at the studio wind down.

I’m not the biggest fan of most of the Zemeckis mo-cap films, but looking at them objectively no one could say that each hasn’t built upon the previous efforts. I couldn’t take the dead eyes of Polar Express, but by A Christmas Carol IMD was producing animation that had a lot of life. Will Zemeckis be able to carry on in the same capacity elsewhere, or will it be up to Cameron, Spielberg, Jackson and others to push mo-cap forward?

Mars Needs Moms, based on the book by Berkley Breathed and directed by Simon Wells, will open on March 11, 2011.

Here’s the full press release, via Deadline:

BURBANK, Calif. – March 12, 2010 – The Walt Disney Studios and ImageMovers Digital (IMD) today announced that they will close operations at IMD’s Marin County facility after production is completed on Mars Needs Moms. The IMD facility is expected to be closed by January, 2011.

“Bob and the entire IMD team successfully built a state of the art studio and produced an amazing film, A Christmas Carol, at a time when the dynamics of the industry are rapidly changing,” said Alan Bergman, President of The Walt Disney Studios. “But, 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.”

“I’m incredibly proud of the talented team that we assembled at IMD and the fantastic work they have accomplished,” said Robert Zemeckis, one of the co-founders of ImageMovers Digital. “Their pride and dedication to making quality movies is evident in everything we have produced.”

The Studio is hoping to create a new long-term production deal with Zemeckis and his IMD partners, Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey, which will include the continued development of the Yellow Submarine project.

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