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Animation: The legend of 'The Legend of Tembo'

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The Legend of TemboHave you ever heard of The Legend of Tembo? It was a new animation feature, the first from a new CGI studio in Port St. Lucie, Florida, Tradition Studios, created by another new company, Digital Domain, to be finished and released during 2014.

In 2009, Digital Domain Media Group received incentive grants worth nearly $70 million from the state and Port St. Lucie to build an approximately 120,000-square-foot, $40 million digital production studio in Tradition. The studio is expected to be complete in December. (2011 press release)

Tradition hired Disney veterans Aaron Blaise and Chuck Williams to direct it. During 2011 and the beginning of 2012, Digital Domain put out a slew of press releases to describe it.

The movie is being written by Will Schneider, who came to Digital Domain from the American Film Institute.

It tells a story of a young African elephant who is captured and separated from his family and taken to India, Coats said. [Pam Coats, Tradition’s head of creative development.]

Tembo with bugs‘When he gets to India that's where sort of the journey takes place, and this is a guy who becomes someone else,’ Coats said. ‘So, he has to transform himself into a fierce, battle elephant, which is based in truth. They did use elephants in battle in India. He has to become something he is not in order to return home.’

While the crew has been frequent visitors to Florida zoos to study elephants, extensive research is planned in Africa and India for the film, Coats said.

Coats, a former executive vice president of creative development at Disney, said about 200 people would work on the film. The company is currently recruiting across all disciplines.

‘We'll be looking for animators, lighters, compositors, technical directors, modelers, riggers," Coats said.’

Unfortunately, while Tradition Studios was in full production of the movie, stories spread that Digital Domain’s CEO John Textor was spending the company’s funding faster than he was raising it. In March 2012 he boasted of his new plan for Tradition: the studio would be so good that it would not pay new employees but would charge them for the privilege of working for the studio. The Cartoon Brew followed the Digital Domain/Tradition story closely.

The expected happened: in September 2012 Tradition shut down. Textor was forced to resign as Digital Domain’s CEO; 300 Tradition employees lost their jobs. The Cartoon Brew ran a story about how Digital Domain had hired a New Hampshire woman to be a Production Accountant at its Port Ste. Lucie headquarters. The New Hampshire woman and her husband quit their jobs, sold their home, piled their family into their car, and drove to Florida to find their new company had just gone out of business. The unfinished Legend of Tembo turned into vaporware.

Most of Tradition’s ex-employees have moved on to new jobs, but a few are trying to keep the movie alive in some form or other. There is an October 2012 9’45” presentation on YouTube for it.

Now the Cartoon Brew has reported that:

The film’s co-director Aaron Blaise is keeping Tembo‘s memory alive on his newish blog by posting materials from the film’s production. So far, he has uploaded concept and development paintings, pencil tests, and most impressively, a massively detailed how-to guide for drawing elephants. If there’s one thing that can be safely concluded from all this material, it’s that the man knows how to draw a mother-humpin’ elephant.

Blaise’s blog also contains drawings that he did in his Disney days, including sketches from Aladdin, The Lion King, Mulan, and Brother Bear. This may be the public's only chance to see what The Legend of Tembo would have been like.

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About the author

Fred (Fred Patten)read storiescontact (login required)

a retired former librarian from North Hollywood, California, interested in general anthropomorphics