Management changes at Walt Disney Animation and Blue Sky Studios signal Disney’s effort to more fully integrate former Fox film and TV assets is gaining strength.
Walt Disney studios has just revealed a series of executive moves across their portfolio of animation studio properties, as they continue to integrate recently acquired Blue Sky Studios more fully into the mix. Walt Disney Studios’ chief creative officer and co-chairman Alan Horn and co-chairman Alan Bergman today announced that Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS) president Andrew Millstein and Zootopia producer and longtime creative executive Clark Spencer are taking on new roles at the studio.
Millstein will take over for recently departed Blue Sky Studio co-president Andrea Miloro to serve alongside co-president Robert Baird. Baird will continue to drive the studio’s creative direction, reporting to Horn and Bergman, while Millstein will oversee day-to-day operations. Millstein will report to Jim Morris, who will expand his duties with a supervisory role at Blue Sky outside of his role as Pixar’s president. Spencer has been promoted to president of Walt Disney Animation Studios, reporting to Bergman and working alongside WDAS chief creative officer Jennifer Lee who continues to report to Horn and Bergman. If you recall, Lee took over that role when former CCO John Lasseter left the company last year after taking a leave of absence in the face of sexual harassment accusations from Pixar staff.
According to Horn and Bergman, “We are incredibly proud of the strength and depth of leadership in our animation studios, and Andrew, Clark, and Jim are all exemplars of that. The remarkable success of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios over the past decade is due in large part to the respective leadership of Andrew and Jim and their ability to foster creativity, technology, and culture in equal parts, and we are thrilled that they will be lending their experience to the Blue Sky team along with Robert Baird’s creative guidance. Clark has been an invaluable leader and contributor at Disney Animation, combining exceptional creative and business instincts, and we’re so pleased he will be leading this historic studio in a key role alongside Jennifer Lee.”
Blue Sky’s future has been a bit cloudy since Disney’s $71 billion Fox film and TV asset acquisition earlier this year. These latest executive changes don’t end industry speculation as to the studio’s ultimate fate, though they surely signal Disney’s intention to more fully integrate Blue Sky operations into the overall Disney animation production fold. With the upcoming launch of Disney +, Disney’s need for animated programming will only increase. It might make more sense to migrate Blue Sky, already skilled in lower-cost, high quality animation production, into a streaming-focused production arm, rather than spin off or sell the business as some industry watchers have predicted.
Millstein has been at Disney for 22 years, serving as president of Walt Disney Animation Studios since 2014 and general manager of WDAS since 2008. Under his leadership, the studio has produced a string of creative and commercial hits like Frozen, Zootopia, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Big Hero 6, and Moana.
Spencer has been with Disney for nearly 30 years, during which he has produced five Oscar-nominated feature films for Walt Disney Animation Studios. He received both an Academy Award and a Producers Guild Award for Zootopia, as well as a PGA Award for Wreck-It Ralph, and is also the producer of hit films Lilo & Stitch, Bolt, and Ralph Breaks the Internet. Spencer began his career at Disney in strategic planning and finance, later overseeing all production and operations at Florida-based Disney Feature Animation as senior vice president and general manager. He earned his MBA in 1990 at Harvard Business School.
Morris has been with Pixar since 2005. As general manager since 2008 and president since 2014, Morris has overseen a hugely successful and critically acclaimed slate of films that include Wall-E, which he produced, Up, Toy Story 3, Inside Out, Coco, and most recently Toy Story 4. Prior to joining Pixar, he spent nearly 20 years in executive roles at Lucasfilm.
Source: Walt Disney Studios
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.