Once upon a time, there was a little Elmsford, New York-based studio called MAGI/Synthavision. In 1987, having completed some of the effects on the ground-breaking Disney film TRON and some CG animation for commercials, an employee named Chris Wedge gathered a bunch of his co-workers and formed a studio of his own. They produced some effects for live-action films like Joe's Apartment, Fight Club and Alien: Resurrection, along with their first short film Bunny, which Wedge directed. In the wake of the CG cartoon movement (Pixar had released A Bug's Life a year before Bunny was awarded Best Animated Short in the Oscars), the studio just happened to be bought by Twentieth Century Fox to help fish them out of their failing 2-D feature animation unit. And the rest was prehistory.
Ice Age was the film that made Blue Sky Studios a major competitor in the animated feature film industry, and they released around one new animated film every two years over the next decade-and-a-half. Their existence also helped boost the morale in the pretty dismal animation circle of the northeast United States, as they were the only feature animation studio in the region, having been originally located in White Plains, New York before moving under a mile across the state border to Greenwich, Connecticut in 2009 for the tax breaks. They were notable for being one of the first studios to use raytrace rendering in feature films. They were also known for using more naturalistic lighting design than other studios, depending completely on sculpture maquettes to create the 3D forms of their characters, and utilizing cartoon squash-and-stretch more frequently in their later features. Chris Wedge directed the studio's first two films, and continued to executive produce many of their later ones.
Following The Walt Disney Company's acquisition of Fox, questions arose concerning Blue Sky Studios' continued existence considering the company didn't need another animation studio with its juggernauts in Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar, and considering Blue Sky's own history of mixed critical reception, combined with the declining popularity of their Flagship Franchise. The underperformance of Spies in Disguise, along with the COVID-19 Pandemic leading to an industry-wide shutdown for months, plus warning signs later emerging when the announcement of the spin-off The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild lacked any visible references of the Blue Sky name and brand, only added to further uncertainty.
On February 9, 2021, what many saw as inevitable happened: Disney announced that the studio would cease operations by April, with all intellectual properties being absorbed into the parent studio. Some employees of the studio managed to be relocated to other divisions within Disney, while most of its upcoming slate was shelved. The studio was officially shut down on April 7 (a week before the exact 10th anniversary of their film Rio no less), and production of The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild was announced to be outsourced to Bardel Entertainment. The studio's final completed project, the Disney+ series of shorts Ice Age: Scrat Tales, was released in April 13, 2022, a year after Blue Sky's shuttering.
Films and shorts made by Blue Sky Studios:
- Bunny (1998)
- Ice Age (2002)
- Robots (2005)
- Aunt Fanny's Tour of Booty (2005)
- Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! (2008)
- Rio (2011)
- Rio 2 (2014)
- Epic (2013)
- The Peanuts Movie (2015)
- Ferdinand (2017)
- Spies in Disguise (2019)
- Nimona: Based on the webcomic/graphic novel of the same name. Production shuttered after the announcement of the studio's disbandment. The project would eventually be picked up by Annapurna Pictures and Netflix.
The studio had plans for a third Rio film as well as film adaptions of the comic strip Mutts and Dugald Steer's Alienology series, though these films were never dated. The studio at one point also had plans to adapt the video game Spore, though no news came of this since its initial announcement. A film titled Anubis was originally planned for 2018, but it was removed from the schedule for unknown reasons.
Blue Sky's works provide examples of:
- Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: Averted. While the majority of their films were rated PG, they would intentionally aim for the G rating on certain films, with the first Rio being re-edited before its release to bring it down to that rating.
- Bookends: Their first major project was Ice Age and began with Scrat trying to get his beloved acorn. After the studio closed, the creators uploaded a short on social media in 2022 in which Scrat finds the acorn once more but, rather then try to bury it as usual, he just eats it and goes on his way. The creators stating they made the short in the final days before Disney's liquidation as a way of going out on their own terms.
- Cash Cow Franchise: Ice Age was the breakout hit that helped keep the relatively young studio afloat, mostly through a very lucrative foreign market. This resulted in 4 sequels being produced. Rio was on its way to becoming one before the diminishing returns of the second film stopped any future sequels from being made. Though there were rumors they were going to make a third one regardless after a cooldown.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The Bunny short and the first Ice Age film are both far more somber and moody than much of their later work, which tends to follow the snarky, pop-culture heavy comedy style that was popularized by DreamWorks Animation in the early 2000s. Epic (2013) and The Peanuts Movie are exceptions. Nimona presumably also would have been a exception as well if it wasn't cancelled.
- Plucky Comic Relief: At least one in every film they've done, with Ice Age's Scrat becoming the studio's mascot.
- Screwed by the Network: Some see their closure by Disney as this — mostly for the fate of NIMONA, cancelled despite being less than a year from completion, though it would eventually be taken over by other studios over a year later.
- What Could Have Been:
- Originally, the first Blue Sky feature was meant to be a film called Santa Calls based on the children's book by William Joyce, but due to production problems the project was scrapped, so Ice Age became their first animated feature instead. This was before they would work with Joyce again on Robots and to adapt The Leaf Men into Epic (2013).
- One of their canceled projects was an adaptation of The Wainscott Weasel. It was tossed around for nearly six years and then shelved.
- In September 2003, Fox and Blue Sky planned to adapt Tony Johnson and Mark Teague's children's book The Iguana Brothers: A Tale of Two Lizards into an animated film.
- Alienology, an animated adaptation of the Ology book series was planned for release in 2012.
- Was reported to have the rights to Horton Hatches the Egg, though nothing came of it.
- Left Tern, a failed animated movie pitch described as "Home Alone with Birds". It may or may not have been re-worked into Rio.
- The studio at one point also had plans to adapt the video game Spore, though no news has come of this since its initial announcement.
- A film titled Anubis was originally planned for 2018, but it was removed from the schedule for unknown reasons.
- An adaptation of ND Stevensons webcomic NIMONA was well into production at the time the studio's closure was announced, but it was cancelled, leaving it to eventually be picked up by other studios and distributors.
- A film titled Foster (the studio's first film with a female director) was scheduled for 2021, but after the Disney/Fox merger, Nimona, prior to its own cancellation, was moved to its former release date, leaving the fate of the film unknown (though given the studio's closure, it's presumably been canceled).