Universal-NBC GE (soon to be Universal-NBC Comcast) has been a feeble player in the animation game. Universal Animation Studios essentially closed shop this month, and the company has been a non-presence in theatrical animation, as well as a chronic under-performer in live-action.
Now, of course, it's done a deal with Chris Meladandri and is partnered with Mr. M.'s Illumination Entertainment to make CGI animated features. For a period of time I wondered where Illumination was going to set up its studio, but then I found out the business model: Illumination works out of offices in Santa Monica, freelancing development and doing productions overseas.
It's first animation feature, Despicable Me was produced in France. Not India. Not China. But the land of champagne and camembert. And why is that? ...
... 3D toonpic "Despicable Me," which is produced by Chris Meledandri, [is] among the first five recipients of France's tax rebate for international shoots.
Paris VFX house Mac Guff handled animation modeling, texturing, rendering and compositing on "Despicable Me," which is the first film from Universal's family film unit Illumination. .
When you are a pretender to animation's throne and not named Pixar, DreamWorks or Blue Sky, you have to watch your pennies, especially when you're dealing with a tight-fisted conglomerate like General Electric.
So Illumination-Universal will get its big French rebate, and the picture will roll out next Fall, and we will see if Mr. Meladandri's lower rent business model results in profits for Universal's shiny new animated feature.
If it does, other companies will likely sniff after the same sort of game plan. And if it fails, there will be small interest in replicating Illumination's blue print.