As Digital Domain Media Group began to publicly implode Sept. 7, almost 350 Port St. Lucie employees were left stunned in the downfall's aftermath, forced to pick up the pieces of their own shattered dreams. Many are still reeling from the company's collapse as the search for new jobs continues nearly a month later.
Some had family members struck with health crises from the stress of the situation. Others were left homeless or with depleted savings accounts, perplexed as to how one of the world's leaders in feature film production and innovative special effects could crumble so quickly. The ripple effects were felt nationwide.
Here are but a few of the 346 stories.
Kaye and Darien Hawkins
On the morning of Sept. 7, Kaye Hawkins, 48, of Newport News, Va., began to pack her belongings to join her husband, Darien, 45, in Port St. Lucie. Darien, a senior systems engineer at Digital Domain, was employed with the media giant for six months and closed on a $155,000, three-bedroom home in the Torino area of town in late July. They made their first mortgage payment Sept. 1.
As she folded clothes and assembled boxes, Kaye paused, feeling uneasy.
"Something in my spirit said don't tackle this today," Kaye said. "I'm just one of those people. I inherited my sixth sense from my mom."
Minutes later the phone rang.
"Are you sitting down?" Darien said on the other end of the line.
Before reporting to work that morning, Darien received a call from his supervisor that something was wrong at Digital Domain. When he arrived at Tradition Studios, he was greeted by law enforcement.
"My office mate was packing up his stuff," Darien said. "Then we had a meeting at 9:30 a.m. or so. That's when they told everyone the company was done. They said they had boxes for us and we had to be out by noon.
"I chased a dream that turned out to be a nightmare," Darien said.
The earth-shattering news sent the couple into a tailspin and Kaye's health began to decline. She was diagnosed with lupus in 1999 and the mostly dormant symptoms, with the exception of a few flare-ups, hit her like a Mack truck.
"I cried so hard it made me sick. I had to go to bed. My joints began to hurt immediately. My hair started falling out," Kaye said.
Through her illness, the housewife had to fight with the movers to get her deposit back and had to cancel the lease she had finalized with a renter for their Virginia home. It pained Kaye that Digital Domain's demise would have a ripple effect on others.
"I had to call my property manager so she could tell the renter. ... It was absolutely devastating," she said. "The woman that wanted to rent our home has an adult handicapped man that she provides care for. Our house is handicap accessible because of its open floor plan and wide halls," Kaye said. "She was heartbroken, but understood."
Fortunately, Darien was rehired by his former Virginia employer, Alion Science and Technology. They plan to rent and eventually sell their Port St. Lucie home.
Tatsuya Nakamura, 40, has traveled the world, bouncing from continent to continent to help create feature films that temporarily transport viewing audiences to another world. The Japanese citizen's resume includes "Gnomeo & Juliet," "Happy Feet Two" and Tim Burton's "9." Nakamura, who received his master's degree in visualization science from Texas A&M University in 2006, said moving to Port St. Lucie was meant to be.
"It was sort of an adjustment on time," said Nakamura, who relocated from Dr. D Studios in Australia, where he helped make "Happy Feet Two." "I felt like I was coming back home."
Since joining Digital Domain in January as a technical director, Nakamura was part of "The Legend of Tembo" team. The production was progressing rapidly with no signs of a looming demise, he said. His first inkling that something was wrong was during a Sept. 4 meeting with the company's then-CEO John Textor.
"It was sort of a quick meeting," Nakamura said. "We were told nothing was wrong."
Three days later, Nakamura was jobless. Because he is in the United States on a work visa, his situation here is tenuous.
"My feelings were mixed. It's hard to describe in words. It's sad to watch," Nakamura said. "One thing, I had a good experience and met many talented people in a very, very short time."
Nakamura is looking for work in the gaming and movie industry in California. He has several interviews scheduled. If he doesn't land a job in the coming weeks, Nakamura said he must return to Japan. Since losing his job at Digital Domain, he hasn't received notice to leave the country yet. Nakamura said he'll continue his job search in Hamamatsu, Japan, his hometown where the dream first began.
Nakamura recalls watching the advent of music videos and MTV during his younger years. He said he was inspired to get into the digital effects industry