Friday, January 22, 2016


PDI tombstone on San Francisco Bay shoreline. Notice the Shrek ears.
Today is one year since the all-company meeting was held at DreamWorks that announced the closing of the PDI office in Redwood City (where I had started at the company) and estimated layoffs of about 20% across the company.  We all knew things were going bad, and something had to give.  But we never thought that PDI - the studio that saved fledgling parent DreamWorks with Shrek, that built all the pipeline and tools used at the company, one of the pioneering CG companies that dated back to the 80s, would be on the chopping block.

Well, we had a slight idea.  Those few months at the company was rumor mill central.  Every day someone would have heard something from a supervisor, or an old friend in the Starbucks line, about films moving around, being put on hold, etc.  All things that would lead to a change in staffing.  The biggest one going around was that Spielberg himself was weighing in on one of the films - one that was just about to ramp up and need a massive staff.  Everyone felt like that was the saving grace, if that movie stayed green-lit we would all be spared this rough patch and hopefully the company could course correct in time.  Unfortunately, the rumor I heard is Steven stewed on it over a whole week and weekend, and came back with a solitary note that he couldn't solve the problem of that film.

Within about a week, an all-studio company meeting was set up on our calendars.  Everyone knew it wasn't good.  To ease the tension we all started taking bets on how many of us would be fired by the end of a given day.  But the day before the meeting, word started going around in Glendale that they might shutter PDI.  It was hard to believe, and I don't think anyone dared to reach out to our PDI friends to share the rumor.  Why stress out if it wasn't even possibly true?  But about 1 minute into his speech, Katzenberg dropped the news: PDI would close.  They would offer some of that workforce the chance to relocate to Glendale, the rest would be let go.  Glendale would also have the largest layoff in company history.  Two problematic and weak films were cut from the production schedule entirely.  To his credit, Jeffery took the blame, said he had turned his attention to other aspects of the company, and took too long to start course correcting it when he saw it going south.  But it's hard when that hindsight still means 500 employees being let go from one of the rare "safe" companies in the industry.

Eventually our Crowds Department, which had numbered 23 during production on Dragons 2, would be cut down to 11.  And we weren't even as badly hit as lighting and fx were.

I took this photo leaving the studio that week.  The near empty courtyard and the moody weather seemed to sum it all up.