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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Fox animation soars under Blue Sky

Low-profile studio stays afloat with 'Ice Age'

The nondescript glass building at 44 South Broadway in White Plains, New York is not located in New York City. It also doesn't exactly look like an artists' paradise but amidst the lawyers and insurance companies here, there is an office that's notable only for the cardboard cutout by the front door advertising "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs."

Behind the doors are screening rooms, sculptures, posters, piercings, and of course, computers -- all the details one would expect at a modern-day animation studio that employs about 300 people.

For anyone who has visited the lush creative campuses of Pixar or DreamWorks Animation, it would be very hard to believe that this is the home of one of Hollywood's most successful animation houses.

Perhaps it's the perfect location for Fox-owned Blue Sky, a studio that teetered on the edge of death for many years, isn't nearly as high-profile publicly as its competitors, and works with the tightest budgets of any major studio's animation operation.

Neither has Blue Sky garnered as much critical acclaim as its competitors. Certainly, none of its features have won the animation Oscar or the toon industry's Annie for best picture, but there's no arguing with its batting average at the box office.

2005's "Robots" was something of a disappointment, but while the first and second "Ice Age" pics were big, 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 an impressive $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 of a family culture not being in L.A. but we put out stuff that I think is of comparable quality."

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 the 2-D flops "Anastasia" and "Titan A.E."

Blue Sky was then 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 recently has been used in movies, starting with "Joe's Apartment" in 1996.


© 2008 , Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


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