Digital Domain layoffs: Employees still picking up the pieces of their own shattered dreams

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 Hawkins

Kaye Hawkins

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

Tatsuya Nakamura

Tatsuya Nakamura

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

after watching videos such as former Beatle George Harrison's "When We Was Fab" and Michael Jackson's "Thriller."

"It's not all a bad thing," said an optimistic Nakamura. "I'll go back to Japan and think about it."

Jackie Adelmeyer

Jackie Adelmeyer

Jon Stegall

Jon Stegall

Jon Stegall and Jackie Adelmeyer

Just days before the company's implosion, Textor promised hundreds of his employees that their jobs were secure during a Sept. 4 meeting, former employees said. According to workers present that day, the charismatic company leader said that although stocks were falling, other grants and funding would be secured.

Among the crowd were Jon Stegall, 31, and Jackie Adelmeyer, 28, co-workers who has been engaged for a year. Both worked at the company for three months, Stegall as an assistant technical director and Adelmeyer as a modeler who designed 3D objects. Both relocated to Port St. Lucie to work on "The Legend of Tembo" from California, where they each worked at different gaming companies.

Both left the meeting reassured, but were blindsided 72 hours later when both lost their jobs during the mass layoff.

The first thing to cross Adelmeyer's mind was the couple's rapidly approaching wedding on Nov. 3. The pair met through mutual friends at a California beach party six years ago and became engaged on their San Francisco apartment's rooftop, which overlooked the Golden Gate Bridge. Although she said the wedding will go on with the last-minute financial help of her parents, Adelmeyer said her fairy tale wasn't supposed to end this way.

"We have to find jobs now and finish planning the wedding. How can you ask your future employer for time off for a wedding?" Adelmeyer said, adding a honeymoon is now out of the question.

"This is probably going to clear our savings," said Stegall, who anticipates he will be added to a class-action lawsuit filed against the company to collect relocation money. "We were smart and rented in Port St. Lucie. We're trying to break our lease."

Adelmeyer said the destination wedding in Mexico will have scaled back decorations. She said her 30 guests already have nonrefundable airline and hotel reservations. The two sold household goods at a yard sale at the Port St. Lucie Civic Center on Saturday to help pay for a U-Haul to move back to California, where they are looking for work.

Analeah Ricchetti

Analeah Ricchetti

Brian Williams

Brian Williams

Brian Williams and Analeah Ricchetti

The weekend before being laid off from Digital Domain, Analeah Ricchetti, 26, a training specialist in the stereo conversion department, was in Seattle visiting family and friends, dress shopping for her May nuptials in Washington. She purchased her dream dress and flew back to Port St. Lucie on Labor Day to report to work on Tuesday. Her fiancé, Brian Williams, 28, also worked at the company as a compositing lead. Both were with the company for two years after Digital Domain acquired 3D stereo studio In-Three Inc. in 2010, a company both worked for in California.

Since losing their jobs, they've been scrambling to try to find new jobs. They too sold household items at the yard sale, including a television, a PlayStation 3 and other electronics to ensure they have emergency cash.

Neither saw signs of trouble.

"I was really shocked," Ricchetti said. "When we came in that day, we were locked out of our computers."

"There's always rumor mongering, but usually 70 percent of it turns out to be untrue," Williams said, adding that speculation began to swirl after stock prices dropped.

Neither know where they will be living in the near future.

"We're just waiting for offers," Ricchetti said, adding that their parents are now footing the bill for the wedding.

"We're looking in Seattle and Michigan," Williams said.

Ricchetti initially had planned on a flood of hydrangeas at her purple- and blue-themed walk down the aisle. There won't be nearly as many flowers and frills as she planned.

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