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DISNEY TO BOLSTER ANIMATION UNIT AT FLORIDA STUDIOS.

Byline: Christine Shenot The Orlando Sentinel

Walt Disney Co. will announce today a major expansion of its animation operations at Disney-MGM Studios. The move signals a more prominent and permanent role for central Florida in the company's core business.

The long-awaited expansion, anchored by a new, 200,000-square-foot building and a work force of 400, is meant to accommodate continued rapid growth in Disney's animation work here. The animation group now includes 360 artists and support personnel, up from 70 when Disney-MGM opened in 1989.

Currently, local animators are racing to complete ``Mulan'' - a movie based on a Chinese folk tale - which is set to debut in the summer of 1998. It will be Disney's first major animated film produced entirely by the central Florida studio.

With the expansion - expected to be completed by the summer of 1998 - Disney officials say local production will rev up to one full-length animated film every two years.

``It really puts the Florida studio on the map in the animation industry,'' said Ken Dopher, director of operations at the studio. ``A lot of people still don't know that we even exist down here.''

The heightened commitment comes at a time when Disney faces substantial competition in a business it has dominated since Walt Disney founded his original studio in 1923. In recent years, several of Hollywood's top players have formed animation studios, including DreamWorks SKG, which was founded by a trio that includes Jeffrey Katzenberg, Disney's former animation chief.

In response, Disney has been laying the groundwork to diversify and increase its animated film production. Most recently, the company decided to expand its partnership with Pixar Animation Studios, the computer animation start-up that created ``Toy Story.'' The partners plan to follow that box-office hit with five major films over the next 10 years.

In central Florida, Disney is building a four-story structure that will have a screening theater, conference rooms and an 800-car parking garage.

Construction already is under way on a site adjacent to the existing complex, which measures just 15,000 square feet. Over the years, Disney has increased work space for its animators by bringing in more than 100 trailers.

The expansion marks a major milestone in the central Florida studio's evolution. It was created, in part, to work on short films and ``featurettes,'' but local animators went on to play a variety of supporting roles in such blockbuster productions as ``Aladdin'' and ``The Lion King.''
COPYRIGHT 1997 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:BUSINESS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 7, 1997
Words:405
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