Blue Sky Studios is an American computer animation film studio based in Greenwich, Connecticut that has been owned by 20th Century Fox since 1997. The studio was founded in 1987 by Chris Wedge, Michael Ferraro, Carl Ludwig, Alison Brown, David Brown, and Eugene Troubetzkoy after the company they worked in, MAGI, one of the visual effects studios behind Tron (1982), shut down. Using its in-house rendering software, the studio had worked on visual effects for commercials and films before completely dedicating itself to animated film production in 2002 starting with the release of Ice Age.
Ice Age and Rio are the studio's most successful franchises, while The Peanuts Movie is its most critically acclaimed film. As of 2013, Scrat, a character from the Ice Age films, is the studio's mascot.
1980–89: Formation and early computer animation
In the late 1970s, Chris Wedge, then an undergraduate at Purchase College studying film, was employed by Mathematical Applications Group, Inc. (MAGI). MAGI was an early computer technology company which produced SynthaVision, a software application that could replicate the laws of physics to measure nuclear radiation rays for U.S. government contracts At MAGI, Wedge met Eugene Troubetzkoy, who held a Ph.D in theoretical physics and was one of the first computer animators. Using his background in character animation, Wedge helped MAGI produce animation for television commercials, which eventually led to an offer from Walt Disney Productions to produce animation for the film Tron (1982). For Tron, MAGI hired Michael Ferraro, a systems architect, and Carl Ludwig, an electrical engineer. As MAGI's success began to decline, the company employed David Brown from CBS/Fox Video to be a marketing executive and Alison Brown to be a managing producer. After MAGI shut down, the six individuals—Wedge, Troubetzkoy, Ferraro, Ludwig, David Brown, and Alison Brown—founded Blue Sky Studios in February 1987 to continue their work in computer animation.
Ferraro began to build a programming language specifically tailored for Blue Sky's proprietary animation software, CGI Studio. At the time, scanline renderers were prevalent in the computer graphics industry, and they required computer animators and digital artists to add lighting effects in manually; Troubetzkoy, Ferraro, and Ludwig developed CGI Studio to use ray tracing, which allows the renderer to simulate the physical properties of light and produce lighting effects automatically. To accomplish this, Ludwig examined how light passes through water, ice, and crystal, and programmed those properties into the software. Following the stock market crash of 1987, Blue Sky Studios did not find their first client until about two years later: a company "that wanted their logo animated so it would be seen flying over the ocean in front of a sunset." In order to receive the commission, Blue Sky spent two days rendering a single frame and submitted it to the prospective client. However, once the client accepted their offer, Blue Sky found that they could not produce the entire animation in time without help from a local graphics studio, which provided them with extra computer processors.
1989–2002: Television commercials, visual effects, and Bunny
Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, Blue Sky Studios concentrated on the production of television commercials and visual effects for film. The studio began by animating commercials that depicted the mechanisms of time-release capsules for pharmaceutical corporations. The studio also produced a Chock Full O' Nuts commercial with a talking coffee bean and developed the first computer-animated M&M's. Using CGI Studio, the studio produced over 200 other commercials for clients such as Chrysler, General Foods, Texaco, and the United States Marines. Blue Sky Studios also produced the computer animation for the "Mathman" video game segments of PBS's Square One Television.
In the mid-1990s, MTV hired Blue Sky Studios to animate their network IDs, which led to additional collaboration between the two companies on the film Joe's Apartment (1996), for which Blue Sky animated the insect characters. Other clients included Bell Atlantic, Rayovac, Gillette and Braun.:14 The Braun commercial was awarded a CLIO Award for Advertising. Recalling the award, Carl Ludwig stated that the judges had initially mistaken the commercial as a live action submission as a result of the photorealism of the computer-animated razor. In August 1997, 20th Century Fox's Los Angeles-based visual effects company, VIFX, acquired majority interest in Blue Sky Studios to form a new visual effects and animation company, temporarily renamed "Blue Sky/VIFX". Following the studio's expansion, Blue Sky produced character animation for the films Alien Resurrection (1997), A Simple Wish (1997), Mousehunt (1997), Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) and Fight Club (1999).
Meanwhile, starting in 1990, Chris Wedge had been working on a short film named Bunny, intended to demonstrate CGI Studio. The film revolves around a rabbit widow who is irritated by a moth. The moth subsequently leads the rabbit into "a heavenly glow, reuniting her with her husband." At the time, Wedge had been the thesis advisor for Carlos Saldanha while Saldanha was a graduate student at the School of Visual Arts; Wedge shared storyboard panels for Bunny with Saldanha during this time. After Saldanha's graduation, Blue Sky Studios hired him as an animator, and he later directed a few commercials. It was not until 1996 when Nina Rappaport, a producer at Blue Sky Studios, assigned Wedge to complete the Bunny project, which required CGI Studio to render fur, glass, and metal from multiple light sources, such as a swinging light bulb and an "ethereal cloudscape". In the initial stages of the Bunny project, Carl Ludwig modified CGI Studio to simulate radiosity, which tracks light rays as they reflect off of multiple surfaces. Blue Sky Studios released Bunny in 1998, and it received the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Bunny's success gave Blue Sky Studios the opportunity to produce feature-length films.
2002–present: Feature films
In March 1999, Fox decided to sell VIFX to another visual effects house, Rhythm & Hues Studios, while Blue Sky Studios would remain under Fox. According to Chris Wedge, Fox considered selling Blue Sky as well by 2000 due to financial difficulties in the visual effects industry in general. Instead, Wedge, film producer Lori Forte, and animation executive Chris Meledandri presented Fox with a script for a comedy feature film titled Ice Age. Studio management pressured staff to sell their remaining shares and options to Fox on the promise of continued employment on feature-length films. The studio moved to White Plains NY and started production on Ice Age. As the film wrapped, Fox feared that it might bomb at the box office. They terminated half of the production staff and tried unsuccessfully to find a buyer for the film and the studio. Instead, Ice Age was released by 20th Century Fox on March 15, 2002, and was a critical and commercial success, receiving a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards in 2003. The film established Blue Sky as the third studio, after Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, to launch a successful CGI franchise.
In January 2009, the studio moved from White Plains, New York to Greenwich, Connecticut, taking advantage of the state's 30 percent tax credit and having more space to grow. The studio stated in April 2017 that it intends to stay in Connecticut until 2025.
In 2013, Chris Wedge took a leave of absence to direct Paramount Animation's live-action/computer-animated film Monster Trucks. He has since returned to Blue Sky Studios and is working on multiple projects for the company.
On November 16, 2017, it is reported that NBCUniversal's owner Comcast approached 21st Century Fox to buy out their key assets following the news 10 days earlier that The Walt Disney Company negotiated with Fox to acquire the same assets. Like Disney, the deal would have included 20th Century Fox, and cable entertainment and broadcast satellite networks including FX Networks, National Geographic Partners, and Fox International Channels. It would not include the broadcast Fox network and Fox Television Stations, Fox Sports, and Fox News Channel units, due to anti-trust issues, as Comcast owns NBC and its affiliated news and sports networks. The deal would also have made Blue Sky Studios a sister studio to Illumination and DreamWorks Animation, feature animation divisions of NBCUniversal's Universal Pictures.
However, on December 11, Comcast officially dropped the bid, saying that "We never got the level of engagement needed to make a definitive offer.” On December 14, Disney officially confirmed its acquisition of 21st Century Fox's key assets, which is still awaiting approval from the United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division. This would also make Blue Sky a sister studio to Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios.
|1||Ice Age||March 15, 2002||$59 million||$383 million||77%||60|
|2||Robots||March 11, 2005||$75 million||$260 million||64%||64|
|3||Ice Age: The Meltdown||March 31, 2006||$80 million||$660 million||57%||58|
|4||Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!||March 14, 2008||$85 million||$297 million||79%||71|
|5||Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs||July 1, 2009||$90 million||$886 million||45%||50|
|6||Rio||April 15, 2011||$90 million||$484 million||72%||63|
|7||Ice Age: Continental Drift||July 13, 2012||$95 million||$877 million||37%||49|
|8||Epic||May 24, 2013||$93 million||$268 million||64%||52|
|9||Rio 2||April 11, 2014||$103 million||$500 million||46%||49|
|10||The Peanuts Movie||November 6, 2015||$99 million||$246 million||87%||67|
|11||Ice Age: Collision Course||July 22, 2016||$105 million||$408.6 million||16%||34|
|12||Ferdinand||December 15, 2017||$111 million||$296.1 million||70%||58|
|13||Spies in Disguise||December 25, 2019||$100 million||$158.2 million||76%||54|
|1||Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas||November 24, 2011||FOX|
|2||Ice Age: The Great Egg-Scapade||March 20, 2016|
|1||Bunny||November 2, 1998|
|2||Gone Nutty||November 26, 2002|
|3||Aunt Fanny's Tour of Booty||September 27, 2005|
|4||No Time for Nuts||November 21, 2006|
|5||Surviving Sid||December 9, 2008|
|6||Scrat's Continental Crack-up||December 25, 2010|
|7||Scrat's Continental Crack-up: Part 2||December 16, 2011|
|8||Umbrellacorn||July 26, 2013|
|9||Cosmic Scrat-tastrophe||November 6, 2015|
|10||Scrat: Spaced Out||October 11, 2016|