Blue Sky

Here’s the Reasons Disney Shuttered Blue Sky

Deadline are relaying the news many were fearing ever since Disney acquired FOX in 2019. Blue Sky was owned by FOX and its long-term future was in doubt with many wondering whether Disney would retain a third feature animation studio. That question is now answered, and the answer is no. Blue Sky will be wound up in April (two months from writing) and all features currently in progress are cancelled.

Impacts

Blue Sky had about 450 talented employees and was the only major feature animation studio on the US east coast. Far removed from the industry hub in California, but very close to some of the top schools in the country.

With Blue Sky gone, the wider region as a whole will feel the impact. Retaining talent in the greater NYC area will be more difficult, and the pool of resources will shrink as a result.

This is all the more depressing when we keep hearing stories about how the animation industry is booming and business has never been better. There may not have been room for Blue Sky within Disney, but there certainly was room for it within the wider industry.

Disney decided not to simply spin-off or sell Blue Sky, and while this says a lot about Disney (they don’t want to create competition if they can avoid it), it also suggests that they felt they couldn’t find a buyer if they tried.

Is the industry saturated with studios?

It’s certainly possible. Major feature studios are a dime a dozen, especially once you look overseas, and even in the US they are more than a few:

  • Disney Feature Animation
  • Pixar
  • DreamWorks (NBCUniversal)
  • ReelFX
  • Laika
  • Sony
  • Warner Bros.
  • Paramount

and these are just the major ones. There’s dozens of independent and boutique studios putting out their own films or producing on behalf of the likes of Netflix. Throw in the oversees studios such as Illumination and suddenly the marketplace does seem a bit crowded.

Despite the fact that animation is weathering the COVID storm much better than live-action, it has also lost the ability to release films in cinemas; perhaps the last level playing field remaining for film releases. Some studios’ decisions to switch to a ‘digital-first’ or simultaneous digital/cinema release can’t have helped matters either. Streaming is booming, but the economics for streaming services other than Netflix remain a bit murky.

The release decisions behind films such as ‘Onward’ and ‘Soul’ are less about pioneering digital so much as hard economics; studios do after all, have to pay for the films before they earn a cent from them. COVID certainly brought the inevitable changes forward by a good half-decade, but many studios were not prepared for the change and were still producing films based on the expected revenues from a theatrical release. This, I believe, was probably the last nail in the coffin for Blue Sky.

What Likely Killed Blue Sky

As alluded to in Disney’s statement:

“Given the current economic realities, after much consideration and evaluation, we have made the difficult decision to close filmmaking operations at Blue Sky Studios.”

This is true for a few reasons

The first is that FOX never had their own streaming service. They relied on Hulu but that service is very much known more for TV than for films even though it does carry the latter. Without its own service, Blue Sky’s films were relegated to other streaming services and were never able to build their own niche with audiences.

Secondly, because of this, there is no audience eagerly awaiting the next Blue Sky release. FOX never crafted a unique brand image for the studio that spoke to the kind of films it made. Instead, Blue Sky became synonymous with ‘Ice Age’; a single franchise.

Thirdly, because of the first two reasons and perhaps most critically, Disney simply felt they already extracted all the value from the studio already. By that I mean that moving forward, all signs point to Disney+ as being the primary avenue for delivering new content from Disney as a whole. There is also the matter of library content of which Disney has a vast and rich collection of animated features of its own let alone Pixar’s. Crucially, it now also owns Blue Sky’s as well. The main value of Blue Sky as far as Disney+ is concerned is in its library, and by owning that, they can extract revenue without the cost of producing new films.

Yet they are producing new Disney Feature and Pixar films, why not for Blue Sky as well?

Simply put, it’s a combination of all three factors. Blue Sky wasn’t afforded the chance to build their own streaming audience or to build a brand image that aroused excitement from such an audience. Now that they are owned by Disney, that company is not going to spend the time, effort and money to do so because they don’t perceive a payoff down the line (doubly so with COVID) AND because they’ve already paid for Blue Sky’s library which is valuable in itself.

Contrast it with Disney’s purchase of Pixar back in 2006 when the latter was very much firing on all cylinders with audiences salivating at the though of each new film, and heralded a new way of making films that people wanted to see. Disney had neither and saw great value in acquiring Pixar for not only their library of films but also for their upcoming slate AND their way of doing business. Does Blue Sky add any of that to the greater Disney empire? Nope.

The demise of Blue Sky was perhaps inevitable as innovators outmaneuvered not just it, but its parent company FOX as well. There’s a reason Rupert Murdoch decided to sell it after all. What the future holds for the wider industry is unclear, but it does hint that further consolidation is likely.

Although this is not surprising in the least, it’s downright disappointing that Disney did not find a better solution for the sake of Blue Sky’s employees and the east coast as a whole.

Blue Sky And Peanuts: It’s Not the End of the World

Via: Peanutsblog

The news broke earlier on today that FOX subsidiary Blue Sky is tackling Charles Schultz’s classic Peanuts strip in an all-new feature film. The alarm hence raised, many proclaimed the end of a classic property, the smearing of Schultz’s memory and the surety with which the eventual film will suck. The A.V. Club weighed in by pointing out the hilarity of the press release in declaring a feature film possible at this point in time thanks to the current state of technology.

But enough about the armchair commentators, what does the deal really signify?

For starters, Schultz’s estate is not short of cash. Peanuts characters (particularly Snoopy) continue to abound in merchandise and the various books continue to sell. The seasonal specials are a staple of American television and air religiously on an annual basis.

The few features that were made by Bill Melendez back in the day are less well known today (although they’re still readily accessible in my mind, as my 4th of July post exemplifies) so what it comes down to is the Schultz estate’s desire to implant the Peanuts legacy into a new generation of youngsters for whom the beloved characters do no not hold the same level of nostalgia that they do for older folks.

Now the estate has some control over the look and nature of any theatrical project but their choice of Blue Sky is an interesting one. The details remain secret, but FOX may have been willing to pay the highest royalties or percentage of profits. On the other hand, now that FOX has a distribution deal with DreamWorks, it has to find a suitable use for Blue Sky outside of the Ice Age franchise.

I am skeptical that we will see a 3-D CGI version of the Peanuts characters. By all accounts we should have seen them already seeing as plenty of other classic characters have already undergone the transformation (Rocky & Bullwinkle and Scooby Doo spring to mind). Might Blue Sky surprise us with a CGI-assisted 2-D version? Disney’s Paperman short suggests that the technology exists in some form.

So let’s not count the chickens before their hatched. The film is not due for a couple of years yet so we’ll just have to hold our breath until the first glimpses emerge. What is known though, is that the Schultz estate has a proven track record of asserting the necessary control over Peanuts-related projects to ensure they maintain a suitably high standard.

Now, for your viewing pleasure, check out the groovy title sequence from the 1972 feature, Snoopy Come Home:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BiFHWn-uwE

 

(UPDATED) Some Handsome Cartoon Hedcuts To Start Your Day

Via: Randy Glass on Behance

Found via Reddit, here’s four hedcuts of the style that is popular with the Wall Street Journal. Created by Randy Glass, they all appear to be the real deal. In other words, there’s no digital explanation behind them so the skill is so much easier to appreciate.

Interestingly enough, even though these are animated characters that would traditionally lack the same level of details as a real person would, these portraits are given the same level of detail as a person and, in a way, almost makes them seem almost as real.

Either way, be sure to click through for the full series of celebrities as well as these four animated characters who managed to make it in there.

UPDATE: The man himself was kind enough to write in and has forwarded two more images that are currently not up on his Behance site; Remy from Ratatouille and Mr. Incredible. Thanks Randy!