WEST PALM BEACH — Digital Domain Institute has suspended its certification classes indefinitely, leaving 16 students in the lurch, according to the Palm Beach Post, the first in West Palm Beach to feel the effects of the digital animation company’s bankruptcy.
The education director of the Digital Domain Institute, Bruce Brooks, told The Post that he still believed the program may be saved.
West Palm Beach officials continued to have no comments on Wednesday concerning the city’s decision to hand over 2.4 acres of prime downtown land, valued at $10 million, to Digital Domain before the company met any performance thresholds toward building a high-rise on the site.
City officials have refused to say whether they knew Digital Domain took two mortgages against the property. The city has to be “very careful about what we say publicly while this plays out in court,” a city spokesman said Wednesday.
The city gave Digital Domain $2 million toward the FSU film school, the first installment of a $10 million promise. In return, Digital Domain would partner with FSU and create a first-in-the nation $28,000-a-year bachelor of fine arts program that let students work with an acclaimed visual effects company.
Classes for the 27 Florida State University students who transferred to the school’s new West Palm Beach campus this fall still are ongoing.
The suspended Digital Domain Institute’s “essential skills” program charged $4,400 for a 10-week course that taught students how to create digital animation for movies. Students could take up to four classes with the hopes that they would be hired at the company’s Port St. Lucie studio.
Days before filing for bankruptcy, Digital Domain laid off 252 of its 272 employees in Port St. Lucie, according to court filings. After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Tuesday, Digital Domain said Searchlight Capital Partners of New York had offered to pay $15 million for the company’s animation studios in southern California and Canada. The studio and college would not be included in the deal.
A new semester for DDI’s essential skills program was supposed to begin Tuesday with classes offered at half price. Students who paid full price last semester were offered a free course, and several of those students had re-enrolled.
“I will tell you, as of today, DDI is still functioning,” Digital Domain’s Brooks said. “We still have an educational component involved in the FSU degree program, and we are assessing the essential skills program.”
The college might survive in some form, he said, even if it’s not part of a buyout, which now must be approved by the bankruptcy court.
“There’s more to the story than Searchlight,” Brooks said. “I’m highly restricted under our Chapter 11 status of what I can discuss about the potentialities.”
Brooks said it hasn’t been determined yet whether the students will be reimbursed for the suspended semester.
The program’s first graduate, Chris Ryan, put $8,000 in tuition on credit cards.
With the Port St. Lucie studio all but shut down, Ryan said students who were certified by Digital Domain will have to go out-of-state if they want to create visual effects for movies. This is after Digital Domain was paid $20 million in incentives by the state to bring the industry to Florida.
“It’s very unfortunate,” Ryan said. “That company really mismanaged their finances.”