During the spring, Yours Truly was granted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. What was it, you ask? I was one of a handful of journalists who was invited to take a road-trip over to Blue Sky Studios. Located in Greenwich, CT, this was by far one of the most unique trips I’ve ever been invited on. I’ve done Disney and WB, but never Blue Sky – one of Hollywood’s leading animation studios. One that’s brought forward some of the best animated titles to date: ROBOTS (2005), RIO (2011), EPIC (2013), THE PEANUTS MOVIE (2015), and last but not least… ICE AGE (2002) – one of their most successful animated features, now fully blown franchise. It doesn’t stop there, boys and girls. Lest we forget they’re also the ones who introduced the world to Scrat!
Five features later, ICE AGE continues to lure people of all ages. These titles provide enough silliness and continuous characters to keep the little ones’ attention-span afloat, but simultaneously provide palpable story-lines to tug at the emotions of an adult. From DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS (2006), through CONTINENTAL DRIFT (2012), and for sure COLLISION COURSE (In theaters July, 22nd), it’s an overall journey of fun that not only serves as entertainment with a great voice-over cast, but can be educationally fun as well.
It kind of sucks that I couldn’t take my personal photos of the entire area (which pretty much resembles a playground for artists), but it is what it its. The layout is fantastic. From its screening room, to its cubicles of animators working, through executive offices, and everything else in-between… It’s designed to make employees and visitors feel welcomed, charmed, and lastly engaged. But it goes beyond that, folks. The work that goes into making this cinematic magic happen isn’t easy. As the whole group sat for some grub during a press roundtable with the studio’s leading animators, I was pleasantly surprised to know that no matter how long they’ve been at it, “as an animator, you’re always a student” according Matthew Doble, Blue Sky’s Leading Animator. As a whole, the overall timeframe for one of these full length features to see its grand finale before approved to hit theaters can go one for more than a year, or so. So mindset when producing a title like ICE AGE for example, requires lots of hours of full-blown dedication. So much, Robert MacKenzie, Senior Visual Development Artist expresses, “the studio, when hiring, they actively look for people who are twenty-four hour artists. It’s a way that you go about seeing the world, in that you take all of the stuff you see outside in regular life and take inventory of that because when we’re working in 3D, everything has to be fully designed, otherwise, it won’t be there and people won’t buy into it.”
When piecing the movie together, “there are restrictions, but directors give us a lot of trust” continues to say MacKenzie when going deeper into the process of creative balance. But seeing as it’s not a live-action where cuts and reshoots are required, animation is tricky – but organized. When confronting “retakes,” computers come more into play as Blue Sky’s CG Supervisor, Roberto Calvo (one of many talented Latinos with artistic prints at Blue Sky) expresses, “every department adds their piece to the final shot.” Calvo is one of the reviewers whose job is pretty much to view shot after shot and make sure it’s as precise and crisp as can be. And these departments he mentions are the ones who are normally tapped to work their artistic skills when retouching scenes.
It’s a constant flow of ideas that lives within all these animators. So much, it’s engraved in their brains and becomes a little hard to let go as the hamster-wheel of artistic swag spins in their head over and over and over again. In the end, it all leads up to living up to what it’s meant for – and that’s captivating an audience!
Feel free to join in on much, much more about the art of ICE AGE and the work behind it by Blue Sky’s animators!