Fred Patten looks inside the impressive new coffee table art book chronicling the studios’ theatrical releases from ‘Ice Age’ to the upcoming ‘Peanuts.’
This is the second all-about-a-new-animation-studio art book recently, following The Art of DreamWorks Animation in April. This one chronicles the history of Blue Sky Studios, in large format (9.2 x 12.8 inches) and full color, for the fifteenth anniversary of its first theatrical CGI release; Ice Age, begun in 1999.
Blue Sky Studios goes back to 1987. It was founded that February in White Plains, New York by Carl Ludwig, Eugene Troubetzkoy, and Chris Wedge (the co-authors of the Foreword). They had a CG background, and conceived of Blue Sky to improve computer graphic illustration from the start. The three founders and some of their students at New York’s School of Visual Arts created the studio to experiment and play with the revolutionary art of computer animation. “From six of us to 600. From laxative commercials to applause on the Oscar stage.” (p. 11)
The new studio was created just as the economy took a sharp downturn. As a result, the tiny staff had plenty of time to do nothing except experiment and develop proprietary computer graphics. It took two years to get its first client, a company that wanted its logo brought to dynamic life. Blue Sky’s first regular work was making CGI TV commercials, graduating to become a live-action visual effects company for movies like Joe’s Apartment, Alien: Resurrection, and MouseHunt. In 1997 Blue Sky was bought by 20th Century Fox to produce its live-movie VFX and animation releases.
Blue Sky’s first theatrical short, Bunny, goes back to 1990, when Chris Wedge was an instructor at the School of Visual Art and Brazilian-born Carlos Saldanha was one of his students. Saldanha developed Bunny as an idea for CGI animation, which Wedge approved. Saldanha eventually went to work at Blue Sky. After the company became a 20th Century Fox subsidiary, Wedge and Blue Sky producer Nina Rappaport realized that it would make an excellent showpiece for what the studio could do. The seven-minute Bunny was completed in 1998 and won that year’s Oscar for Best Animated Short. That convinced Fox to support Blue Sky’s producing an animated feature, if Wedge would direct it. The result was Ice Age, begun in 1999 and released in 2002; so successful that it has become the cornerstone of a four-feature (so far) franchise.
The Art of Blue Sky Studios consists of nine chapters averaging 25 to 40 pages each, profiling the development of each of Blue Sky’s features and their separate shorts and TV Specials such as Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas. Ice Age (2002). Robots (2005). Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006). Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! (2008) Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009). Rio (2011). Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012). Epic (2013). Rio 2 (2014). There is a brief preview of Blue Sky’s next feature, now in production: Peanuts (2015).
Friedman has had full access to Blue Sky’s archives, with the visual result that the book is mostly “unfinished” art rather than finished CGI stills. Each feature is profiled with concept art, character sketches, animatics, color keys and color scripts, and more, with each piece of art credited to its creator: Mark Behm, Steve Blevins, Thomas Cardone, Peter Clarke, Greg Couch, Shaun Cusick, Peter de Sève, Mary GrandPré, Xiangyuan Jie, Bill (William) Joyce, Michael Knapp, H. B. Lewis, Brian McEntee, Peter Nguyen, Brandon Oldenburg, Daisuke Tsutsumi, and many others. A typical page or double-page spread ranges from several black-&-white rough sketches to a single lush color painting of a detailed scene. There is a slight emphasis on how Blue Sky’s favorite characters (Scrat the Saber-toothed Squirrel; Manny the Mammoth, Sid the Sloth; Rodney Copperbottom the robot; Blu and Jewel the Blue Macaws; and so on). Amazingly, there is little or no duplication of the art between the sixty pages here on Rio and Rio 2, and Titan Books’ recent coffee-table The Art of Rio: Featuring a Carnival of Art from Rio and Rio 2.
The Art of Blue Sky Studios is especially for everyone who has enjoyed the Ice Age movies or their characters; and Rio and its sequel. If you enjoyed Robots, Horton Hears a Who!, or Epic, the information and art here is a nice bonus.
Fred Patten has been a fan of animation since the first theatrical rerelease of Pinocchio (1945). He co-founded the first American fan club for Japanese anime in 1977, and was awarded the Comic-Con International's Inkpot Award in 1980 for introducing anime to American fandom. He began writing about anime for Animation World Magazine since its #5, August 1996. A major stroke in 2005 sidelined him for several years, but now he is back. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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