Sunday, May 04, 2008

Pixar of the East

Ben Fritz has a fine, in-depth profile of the most successful animation studio east of the Mississippi:

When Fox acquired Blue Sky in 1997, building one of the most successful CGI studios in the biz wasn't even on its radar. At the time, it was investing its animation money into a studio in Arizona that produced 2-D flops "Anastasia" and "Titan A.E."

Instead, Blue Sky was merged with Fox's VIFX, a now-defunct special effects company. Blue Sky was meant to contribute its CGI skills, which had been honed for years on commercials and only recently has been used in movies, starting with "Joe's Apartment" in 1996 ...

Funny thing, but I recall the early days of Blue Sky well. For a brief time, Fox had a Blue Sky satellite studio on the West Coast doing work in Visual Effects and I strolled through it on occasion.

Back before Ice Age Uno opened, I had the opportunity to visit Blue Sky Animation in White Plains. (No, I didn't hand out any rep cards.) Then as now, it was on multiple floors of the IBM building on Broadway. Unlike now, nobody had any idea if the studio would survive beyond the release of Ice Age. (In fact, one of the execs told me that Fox was pitching the place to various potential buyers. The pitching stopped abruptly after scenes from the first feature received a rapturous reception at Cannes prior to release and News Corp. began sniffing "major hit" blowing in the wind.)

And since then:

... Only 2005's "Robots" was something of a disappointment, while the first and second "Ice Age" pics were big and huge, respectively, and this year's "Horton Hears a Who" has already taken $274 million worldwide, with several foreign markets left to go. In total, Blue Sky's four films have racked up over $1.5 billion in worldwide grosses. "There's not as much luxury here, not the same time, and certainly not the same budgets as some who started before us," admits company vet Carlos Saldanha, who co-directed "Ice Age" and "Robots" and solely helmed "Ice Age: The Meltdown" and the third "Ice Age," which comes out next summer. "At the same time, we have more a family culture not being in L.A. and we put out stuff that I think is of comparable quality."

If Blue Sky's budgets are smaller than its rivals, so are salaries -- assuming the anecdotal evidence that comes across TAG's transom to be an accurate indicator. The complaints we've gotten from various Blue Sky staffers have been ongoing. (L.A. area wages are here.)

This shouldn't come as a major surprise, since the studio has few upward pressures on salaries in White Plains (what other studio in the neighborhood does it compete with? Not a one). Added to which, the place has never been under a union or guild collective bargaining agreement.

Nonetheless, having another thriving animation house in the U.S. of A. is a good thing. Even if it doesn't pay its employees quite as well.

(For some Blue Sky artists' blog sites, go here, here, here or here.)


Anonymous said...

Why is the animation guild website never updated monthly on time?!!

Always wayyyy late -

Steve Hulett said...

Fine question.

I'll rummage around for an answer.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Steve - for fixing the update of April.
It's nice to follow the newsletter once again -

Jeff Massie said...

I put the April update up last week, don't know why you wouldn't've seen it earlier.

Bear in mind that unlike commercial magazines, the Peg-Board is usually published in the month it's dated (so the April issue was published in mid-April), and it doesn't go online until after it's been mailed.

By the way, if you're a member on honorable withdrawal, don't forget that you can get the Peg-Board mailed to you free of charge. All you need to do is send me an e-mail at with your home address and home phone number. The mailing label has an expiration date, so remember to let us know once a year in writing that you want to continue receiving it.

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