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DreamWorks animation cuts its staff and output

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This image released by DreamWorks Animation shows a scene from "How To Train Your Dragon 2." The film was nominated for an Oscar Award for best animated feature on Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/DreamWorks Animation)

DreamWorks Animation said on Thursday that it would reduce its movie output and lay off 500 employees, or roughly 19 percent of its staff, a retrenchment that follows a string of box-office misfires and two failed merger attempts.

The struggling studio, already one of Hollywood’s smallest, said the moves were necessary to "ensure the consistent and profitable delivery" of films. Rather than trying to release three movies in a single year, as it did in 2014, DreamWorks will release one film this year and two annually after that.

Three films a year "was just too ambitious and has led to inconsistent performance," Jeffrey Katzenberg, the company’s chief executive, said in a conference call with analysts. "Getting the feature film business back on track is our top priority."

Mr. Katzenberg added that he would refocus his attention on film production. In recent years, Mr. Katzenberg has stepped away from movies to focus on expanding fledgling television and consumer products businesses. The problem is that a successful consumer products unit, in particular, depends upon successful movies.

The studio said it would take a $290 million restructuring charge and close an animation facility in Northern California. The studio’s shares rose slightly in after-hours trading, to $22.

Additionally, DreamWorks will part ways with three senior executives: Dawn Taubin, chief marketing officer; Mark Zoradi, chief operating officer; and Lewis W. Coleman, vice chairman. Mr. Coleman, who is retiring, will also leave the board.

"We were top-heavy," Mr. Katzenberg said.

Bill Damaschke, the studio’s chief creative officer, stepped down this month after some movies failed to meet box-office projections or required write-downs, including "Turbo," "Rise of the Guardians," "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" and "Penguins of Madagascar." "How to Train Your Dragon 2" was a hit, particularly overseas, but missed expectations in North America.

Taking Mr. Damaschke’s place are Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Soria, who will be co-presidents of feature animation. They will oversee a movie pipeline that begins with "Home," set for release on March 27 by 20th Century Fox. After that, the studio will deliver one original film and one sequel annually.

Mr. Katzenberg declined to comment on unsuccessful merger talks late last year with the Japanese telecommunications company SoftBank and Hasbro. But he indicated that DreamWorks had refocused on going it alone.

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