There are very few animation studios which are easily recognisable globally, there is Walt Disney Animation Studio that set the ball rolling, there is Pixar (now Disney.Pixar), there is a certain DreamWorks Animation Studio and then there are the occasional mentions of a Studio Ghibli based in Japan. But there have been lesser renowned studios that have left a worldwide audience spell bound with their kind of animation and storytelling and one such studio is Illumination Entertainment, which was set-up in early 2007.
The brain child of former 20th Century Fox Animation president, Chris Meledandri, who has been an exec producer on projects like Ice Age, Ice Age 2: Meltdown and Horton Hears A Who! Illumination Entertainment has gone onto create and release 5 theatrical features so far, which includes the recent record shattering prequel/spin-off to its first feature Despicable Me called Minions.
In a span of 5 years since its first theatrical outing, the studio which is owned by Universal Studios – that also holds exclusive distribution rights to all its films – has managed to deliver what now stands only second behind Walt Disney Animation’s 2013 release Frozen on the highest grossing animation feature film of all time and is only a few hundred thousand bucks away from taking away the crown from the Disney motion picture.
So what has been the secret of success of an animation studio which barely holds even a decade of experience, but now is taken in the same breath as any Disney, Pixar or DreamWorks feature offering? TheGraphicSlate.com attempts to answer this very question in what follows next…
Illumination Entertainment was aware that it needed to offer something out of the box, so what could it give which hasn’t already been explored by other far more experienced and larger studios – the answer to this was ‘wacky’ looking characters.
Right from its first theatrical feature the studio won hearts and laughs by introducing the yellow fellas, who would go to any extent to help their father/caretaker/creator Gru – Minions.
The fact that all of them looked the same (because of the colour) but still displayed diverse characteristics and body dimensions was a novel factor that won the studio brownie points with the audience.
The characters became pop culture icons in no time, with brands vying to get a piece of them for creating anything from soft toys to apparels, basically anything that could be carried around as a style statement.
Although, the studio has made two other movies that do not feature the Minions, the adorable character is something that the studio now uses as its identity.
This has been one of the weaker links for the studio as apart from the two Despicable Me features, it has been criticised for not emphasising much on its stories as it does on gags and humour, but with Minions and a teaser to its next release called ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ also released there is a lot more effort being taken to improve the scripting as well.
With its first four outings the impression that one had was that the studio doesn’t try hard enough and its not because it can’t, but because it appears to carry the impression that it doesn’t have to try that hard.
With Minions, the studio brought on board Puss in Boots scribe Brian Lynch (as opposed to going with its regular scripting duo of Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio). But, this hasn’t been the first that Lynch has collaborated with the studio; earlier he along with Paul and Daurio had penned Hop. But the way Minions turned out clearly showed that Lynch certainly has the knack of blending comic timing with physical humour when it comes to animation storytelling.
And Lynch is once again going to join hands with Paul and Daurio for Illumination’s next feature based on the life of pets, which will hit theatres in 2016. If the trailer is anything to go by, then one can expect nothing but more teary eyed happy viewers coming out of theatres next year as well.
Meledandri is determined to keep his company adhering to a low-cost model, recognising that strict cost controls and hit animated films are not co-related.
In an industry where movie expenses often exceed $100 million, Illumination’s first two releases were completed with significantly lower budgets, considering Despicable Me’s $69 million budget and the $63 million budget of Hop. And even its latest offering Minions is also made at a budget of nearing $75 million.
One way the company sustains a lean financial model is by employing cost-conscious animation techniques that lower the expenses and render times of its computer graphics. This in turn encourages the artists to stick to simple techniques and save cost and time on production, which has led to the studio managing to release a film every year since its first feature release in 2010.
At one time or another, each animation studio is needed to step up the ante and really prove its mettle for great storytelling to go along with having top-notch animation, and Illumination is just about hitting the right notes now after the magical success of Minions.
Being a part of the animation ecosystem, one can only pray and hope that Illumination Entertainment only continues to grow from strength to strength and proves that there is more to the studio’s success than a simple concept and a super-effective marketing campaign.
Minions is certainly no fluke and the studio will prove that with yet another billion dollar baby in The Secret Life of Pets, which hits screens next year! Amen! 😉