Blue Sky Studios

Last updated

Blue Sky Studios, Inc.
Industry Computer animation
Motion pictures
FoundedFebruary 22, 1987;33 years ago (1987-02-22)
  • Chris Wedge
  • Carl Ludwig
  • Eugene Troubetzkoy
  • Alison Brown
  • David Brown
  • Michael Ferraro
Key people
  • Robert Baird (Co-President) [1]
  • Andrew Millstein (Co-President) [2] [3]
  • Brian Keane (COO) [4]
ProductsAnimated films
Number of employees
500 [5]  (2017)
Parent 20th Century Animation
(Walt Disney Studios)

Blue Sky Studios, Inc. is an American computer animation film studio based in Greenwich, Connecticut. It is a subsidiary of 20th Century Animation, a division of The Walt Disney Studios.


The studio was founded in 1987 by Chris Wedge, Michael Ferraro, Carl Ludwig, Alison Brown, David Brown, and Eugene Troubetzkoy after their employer MAGI, one of the visual effects studios behind Tron , 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. The studio's first feature, Ice Age , was released on March 15, 2002 by 20th Century Fox. In March 2019, the studio was acquired by Disney, upon their acquisition of 21st Century Fox assets.

Blue Sky has produced 13 feature films, with its latest release being Spies in Disguise on December 25, 2019, and their next release being Nimona on January 14, 2022. Ice Age and Rio are the studio's most successful franchises, while Horton Hears a Who! and The Peanuts Movie are its most critically praised films.[ citation needed ] As of 2013, Scrat, a character from the Ice Age films, serves as the studio's mascot.


1980–1989: 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. [6] :12–13 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). After Tron, MAGI hired Carl Ludwig, an electrical engineer, [6] :13 and Mike Ferraro transferred to the film division from the Cad Cam division of MAGI. 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. [6] :12–13 After MAGI was sold to Vidmax (Canada), the six individuals—Wedge, Troubetzkoy, Ferraro, Ludwig, David Brown, and Alison Brown—founded Blue Sky Studios in February 1987 to continue the software design and produce computer animation. [6] :13 [7]

At Blue Sky, Ferraro and Ludwig expanded on CGI Studio, the studio programming language they started at MAGI and began using it for animation production. [6] :12–13 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; [6] :13 Troubetzkoy and Ludwig adapted MAGI's ray tracing, [8] algorithms which simulate the physical properties of light in order to produce lighting effects automatically. [6] :13–14 To accomplish this, Ludwig examined how light passes through water, ice, and crystal, and programmed those properties into the software. [6] :13 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." [6] :13–14 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. [6] :14

1989–2002: Television commercials and visual effects

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. [6] :14 Using CGI Studio, the studio produced over 200 other commercials for clients such as Chrysler, General Foods, Texaco, and the United States Marines. [9] They made a cartoon bumper for Nicktoons that features an orange blob making a dolphin, a dinosaur, and a walking person. [10]

In 1996, MTV collaborated with Blue Sky Studios on the film Joe's Apartment , for which Blue Sky animated the insect characters. Other clients included Bell Atlantic, Rayovac, Gillette and Braun. [6] :14 The Braun commercial was awarded a CLIO Award for Advertising. [6] :14 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. [8] [11] 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". [12] Following the studio's expansion, Blue Sky produced character animation for the films Alien Resurrection (1997), A Simple Wish (1997), Mouse Hunt (1997), Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) and Fight Club (1999). [6] :15

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." [6] :15 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. [6] :15

2002–2018: Feature films under 20th Century Fox

Blue Sky Studios' logo from 2005 to 2013 Blue Sky Studios logo.svg
Blue Sky Studios' logo from 2005 to 2013

In March 1999, Fox decided to sell VIFX to another visual effects house, Rhythm & Hues Studios, while Blue Sky Studios would remain under Fox. [13] 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. [14] 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.[ citation needed ] 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. [15] The film established Blue Sky as the third studio, after Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, to launch a successful CGI franchise. [14]

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. [16] [5] The studio stated in April 2017 that it intends to stay in Connecticut until 2025. [17]

In 2013, Chris Wedge took a leave of absence to direct Paramount Animation's live-action/computer-animated film Monster Trucks . [18] He has since returned to Blue Sky Studios and is working on multiple projects for the company. [19]

2019–present: Disney acquisition

Blue Sky Studios was acquired by The Walt Disney Company as part of their 2019 acquisition of 21st Century Fox, [20] which concluded on March 20, 2019. [21] On March 21, Disney announced that Blue Sky Studios and its parent company 20th Century Fox Animation would be integrated as units within the Walt Disney Studios with co-presidents Andrea Miloro and Robert Baird continuing to lead the studio reporting to Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn. [22] In July 2019, Miloro announced that she would be stepping down from her role as co-president leaving Baird as sole president. [23]

In August 2019, former Walt Disney Animation Studios head Andrew Millstein was named as co-president of Blue Sky Studios alongside Baird, while Pixar Animation Studios president Jim Morris would also be taking a supervising role. [2] [24]


Feature films

Released films

#TitleRelease dateDistributor/Co-production withBudgetGross RT MT
1 Ice Age March 15, 2002 20th Century Fox Animation $59 million$383 million77%60
2 Robots March 11, 2005$75 million$260 million64%64
3 Ice Age: The Meltdown March 31, 2006$80 million$660 million57%58
4 Horton Hears a Who! March 14, 2008$85 million$297 million79%71
5 Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs July 1, 2009$90 million$886 million46%50
6 Rio April 15, 2011$90 million$484 million72%63
7 Ice Age: Continental Drift July 13, 2012$95 million$877 million38%49
8 Epic May 24, 2013$93 million$268 million64%52
9 Rio 2 April 11, 2014$103 million$500 million46%49
10 The Peanuts Movie November 6, 2015$99 million$246 million87%67
11 Ice Age: Collision Course July 22, 2016$105 million$408 million18%34
12 Ferdinand December 15, 2017 20th Century Fox Animation
Davis Entertainment
$111 million$296 million72%58
13 Spies in Disguise December 25, 2019 20th Century Fox Animation
Chernin Entertainment
$100 million$171 million75%54

Upcoming films

#TitleRelease dateDistributor/Co-production withRefs
14 Nimona January 14, 2022 20th Century Animation
Vertigo Entertainment
[25] [26] [27] [28] [29]

Television specials

#TitleRelease date
1 Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas November 24, 2011
2 Ice Age: The Great Egg-Scapade March 20, 2016

Short films

#TitleRelease date
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
6Scrat's Continental Crack-Up [30] December 25, 2010
7Scrat's Continental Crack-Up: Part 2 [30] December 16, 2011
8Umbrellacorn [31] [32] July 26, 2013
9 Cosmic Scrat-tastrophe [33] November 6, 2015
10 Scrat: Spaced Out [34] [35] October 11, 2016



TitlesMoviesRelease years
Ice Age 52002–present
Rio 22011–present


Academy Awards

1998 Bunny Best Animated Short Film Chris Wedge Won
2002 Ice Age Best Animated Feature Nominated
2003 Gone Nutty Best Animated Short Film Carlos Saldanha and John C. Donkin
2006 No Time for Nuts Chris Renaud and Mike Thurmeier
2011 Rio Best Original Song "Real in Rio"
Sérgio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown and Siedah Garrett
2017 Ferdinand Best Animated FeatureCarlos Saldanha and Lori Forte

Annie Awards

2002 Ice Age Best Animated Feature Lori ForteNominated
Best Character Animation Mike Thurmeier
Best Character Design in an Animated FeaturePeter DeSève
Best Directing in an Animated Feature Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha
Best Music in an Animated Feature Production David Newman
Best Production Design in an Animated FeatureBrian McEntee
Best Writing in an Animated Feature Michael Berg, Michael J. Wilson and Peter Ackerman
2005 Robots Best Character Design in an Animated Feature William Joyce
Best Production Design in an Animated FeatureWilliam Joyce and Steve Martino
2006 Ice Age: The Meltdown Best Animated EffectsJohn David Thornton
Best Character Design in an Animated FeaturePeter DeSève
Best Directing in an Animated Feature ProductionCarlos Saldanha
Best Music in an Animated Feature Production John Powell
Best Storyboarding in an Animated FeatureWilliam H. Frake III
2008 Horton Hears a Who! Best Animated EffectsAlen Lai
Best Character Design in an Animated FeatureSang Jun Lee
Best Character Animation in an Animated FeatureJeff Gabor
Best Music in an Animated Feature ProductionJohn Powell
Best Writing in an Animated Feature Production Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio
2009 Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs Best Music in an Animated Feature ProductionJohn Powell
Best Voice Acting in a Feature Production John Leguizamo
2012 Rio Best Animated FeatureBruce Anderson and John C. Donkin
Best Character Animation in an Animated FeatureJeff GaborWon
Patrik PuhalaNominated
Best Character Design in an Animated FeatureSergios Pablos
Best Directing in an Animated FeatureCarlos Saldanha
Best Music in an Animated Feature ProductionMikael Mutti, Siedah Garrett, Carlinhos Brown, Sérgio Mendes and John Powell
Best Production Design in an Animated FeatureThomas Cardone, Kyle MacNaughton and Peter Chan
Best Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production Jemaine Clement
2012 Ice Age: Continental Drift Best Animated EffectsAndrew Schneider
Music in an Animated Feature ProductionJohn Powell, Adam Schlesinger and Ester Dean
Best Production Design in an Animated FeatureNash Dunnigan, Arden Chan, Jon Townley and Kyle Macnaughton
2013 Epic Animated Effects in an Animated ProductionAlen Lai, David Quirus, Diego Garzon Sanchez, and Ilan Gabai
Character Animation in an Animated Feature ProductionThom Roberts
Best Directing in an Animated FeatureChris Wedge
Best Music in an Animated Feature Danny Elfman
Production Design in an Animated Feature ProductionMichael Knapp, Greg Couch, and William Joyce
2014 Rio 2 Outstanding Achievement, Character Design in an Animated Feature ProductionSang Jun Lee, Jason Sadler, and José Manuel Fernández Oli
Best Storyboarding in an Animated FeatureJohn Hurst
Rodrigo Perez-Castro
Best Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production Andy García
2015 The Peanuts Movie Best Animated FeatureCraig Schulz, Bryan Schulz, Cornelius Uliano, Paul Feig and Michael J. Travers
Outstanding Achievement in Character Animation in a Feature ProductionBJ Crawford
Outstanding Achievement in Directing in an Animated Feature ProductionSteve Martino
Outstanding Achievement in Voice Acting in an Animated Feature ProductionAlex Garfin
Hadley Belle Miller
2017 Ferdinand Best Design in an Animated Feature ProductionThomas Cardone, Arden Chan, Andrew Hickson, Mike Lee and Jason Sadler
Editorial in an Animated Feature ProductionHarry Hitner and Tim Nordquist
2019 Spies in Disguise Outstanding Achievement for Character Design in an Animated Feature ProductionJosé Manuel Fernández Oli
Outstanding Achievement for Music in an Animated Feature Production Mark Ronson and Theodore Shapiro

Critic's Choice Awards

2002 Ice Age Best Animated Film Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha Nominated
2015 The Peanuts Movie Steve Martino

Golden Globe Awards

2015 The Peanuts Movie Best Animated Feature Film Steve Martino Nominated
2017 Ferdinand Carlos Saldana
Best Original Song (Home) Nick Jonas, Justin Tranter, and Nick Monson

See also

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Further reading