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Disney Chief Says Computer Animation Rules

Traditional animators' worst fears were realized as David Stainton, Disney's recently appointed head of feature animation, told the 525 animation employees gathered April 28, 2003 that he wants them to produce lush, classic fairy tales entirely on computers, according to a profile on the Disney exec in THE LOS ANGELES TIMES. Animation Website forums and chat rooms have been abuzz for some time about Disney possibly eliminating traditional animation altogether at its Burbank, California studio.

"There's a lot of fear," said Glen Keane, who designed the characters Tarzan, Aladdin and Pocahontas. "He's trying to steer the studio in a direction that half the artists are afraid to go and the other half are headlong racing down than path." Keane said he felt "personally challenged," according to the TIMES article.

The profile depicts Stainton as a brilliant businessman who has worked wonders with his various assignments at Disney but is also perceived as blunt and impatient. Stainton said he resents being "surprised by problems" and will "definitely get brusque" if he has to repeat directions. Some say his blunt style doesn't sit well with the fragile egos of artists. Stainton explained in the piece that his perceived aloofness was a reflection of the limited time he had to spend with them, rather than a lack of appreciation for their talent or input. He plans to move his office from the exec level down to where the production team is based.

Stainton is credited with turning Disney TV animation into a money machine with low-cost, direct-to-video sequels such as LION KING II, and feature films PIGLET'S BIG MOVIE and RETURN TO NEVER LAND. The TV series KIM POSSIBLE was also created under his watch.

THE TIMES characterized Stainton as a bridge builder between TV and feature animation. "There was a time when feature animators wouldn't speak to TV animators," Disney vice chairman Roy E. Disney said. " He kept feature animation and TV animation more arm-in-arm than they had been."

Stainton plans to recruit more live-action directors with distinctive styles to help create animated films. He is now wooing Baz Luhrmann who directed MOULIN ROUGE. Disney Studio chairman Dick Cook likes the notion of breaking down walls between live-action and animation. "He's got everybody energized," Cook said. "He's got both the left brain and the right brain working simultaneously."

Stainton said the studio's core audience for animation is 4- to 10-year-olds and their parents. It is not for a general audience. He said he believes that is what contributed to the failure TREASURE PLANET, which cost an estimated $140 million, yet only grossed $38 million domestically. Stainton's mandate is to produce features for less than $100 million. Since starting, Stainton has put CHICKEN LITTLE and MY PEOPLES on hold because he said they needed more focus, and that it was time to retrench.