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FSU Digital Animation Program Partnership In Question

Palm Beach Post

A burgeoning Florida State University film program could leave both students and taxpayers shortchanged.

One month after opening their doors to students for the first day of class, Florida State University’s Animation and Digital Arts Program is up in the air*.  Digital Domain, the special effects company who co-sponsored the program, is filing for bankruptcy three years after opening its office in Port St. Lucie.   The company received $20 million from the state in 2009.  However, Enterprise Florida the organization that vets those funding requests, said Digital Domain didn’t warrant Florida’s investment in the first place.

“We did indicate to the State of Florida that we do not recommend incentive funding for Digital Domain’s proposal”Enterprise Florida’s spokesman Stewart Doyle said.

Enterprise Florida didn’t think Digital Domain could give a healthy return on investment to the state.

Then-Governor Charlie Crist, overrode the recommendation.  Now, current Governor Rick Scott is ordering the State’s Inspector General to launch an investigation into the funding process. 

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is the regulatory agency that monitors companies that receive incentives from the State.  It said that up to nine months ago Digital Domain had checked out fine with their audits.  But now the Department is trying to get back the State’s 20 million dollar payment to the company.

“Our general counsel office has taken immediate action, and took immediate action by communication to Digital Domain through a demand letter, and we have also verified that DEO is a listed creditor in the Digital Domain bankruptcy case, in addition to that, our general counsel office is exploring all avenues available, based on the law, how we’re going to recoup these funds” Department of Economic Opportunity spokesman Ben Wolf said.

But all is not lost for Florida State’s Animation program. University spokeswoman Jeanette DeDiemar said even though it’s losing a major partner in Digital Domain, FSU still plans to hold on to the Animation program. 

“I think that regardless of having a studio that is up the street or not, the faculty is going to always be composed of top notch professionals from the industry, and the college is committed to continue to do that” DeDiemar said.

Digital Domain’s South Florida facility houses the FSU animation studio.  That studio was built with the $20 million in State funding.  FSU hopes to find another partner to help run the program, but said it has no plans to move the Animation Program back to its Tallahassee campus despite the loss of Digital Domain.

*Clarification Note:

We originally reported that the program was "in jeopardy of cancelation" and that it was "in danger of shutting down." However University spokeswoman Jeanette DeDiemar followed up with this statement for clarification: "There are two majors under the BFA in Motion Picture Arts degree: 1) Production and 2) Animation and Digital Arts.  Production is offered in Tallahassee; Animation & Digital Arts is offered in West Palm Beach. Regarding the status of the program, as I mentioned the university will continue to deliver the content and learning outcomes focused on the animation and digital arts major."