Blue Sky Moves to Connecticut

Horton Hears a Who!News broke on Thursday, January 10th, that Blue Sky Studios, producers of Ice Age, Robots and Ice Age: The Meltdown, as well as the forthcoming Horton Hears a Who! (pictured above), is moving some 12 miles from White Plains, New York, just north of New York City, to Greenwich, Connecticut. While the move from one bedroom suburb of Gotham to another does not seem like such a big deal, it is something of a rarity for a major animation studio to change states. Unlike Fleischer Studios’ misguided relocation from New York to Miami in 1938, it does not seem to pose any insurmountable problems, but it may be something of a psychological blow to the New York animation community.

The American animation industry started in New York and only began to establish itself in earnest in Los Angeles during the 1920s, probably starting with Walt Disney’s move from Kansas City. In the early 1930s, there were 3 important studios in New York — Fleischer, Terryt0ons and Van Buren; the latter closed down when parent company RKO signed on to distribute Disney cartoons. Fleischer’s move to Miami ended in 1943, when its “successor” company, Famous Studios, moved back. Terrytoons and Famous soldiered on until the 1950s, when the Hollywood majors started closing down their cartoon operations.

By that time, New York had become the place for animated TV commercials, which were in very high demand by ad agencies; the demand was such that UPA even opened a New York facility devoted to TV spots. The boom collapsed at the end of the decade, and New York animation went into a slow decline. And Blue Sky was certainly an important factor in its revival over the past 15-20 years.

For its part, the studio was set up in 1987 by refugees from MAGI/SynthaVision, the pioneer computer animation house which worked on Tron. It had intended to produce animated movies from the get-go, but the 1987 stock market crash prevented a planned stock offering from going through; as a result, it went into TV commercials and special effects instead. Co-founder Chris Wedge, though, never gave up and kept shopping feature ideas all over Hollywood; finally, Fox took the bait and eventually bought the company. (In the process, Fox closed its Don Bluth Phoenix, Arizona operation, claiming it did not have the funds to support both operations.)

However, Fox had little confidence in the success of Ice Age and actually put the studio up for sale before the film was released. (See my exclusive report on this in my April 17, 2002 commentary.) Blue Sky, which in the meantime lost much of its staff to West Coast studios, had to scramble to hire artists and write scripts for new films.

The Hartford Courant reports that Blue Sky had done “an extensive search in the New York metropolitan area” before settling on Greenwich.

The studio said the decision was driven by Connecticut’s generous movie and television industry tax credits. …

Blue Sky’s use of state tax credits is expected to cost the state millions of dollars in coming years. Whether the program pays off depends on several factors, including the company’s contributions to the state’s economy, income taxes its employees pay and whether other studios follow its example.

The state’s 18-month-old tax credit program for film, video and web production is one of the most lucrative in the country. The credits, which give back 30 cents on every dollar spent on qualified production work in Connecticut, has already attracted several movie productions, including the next “Indiana Jones” movie, parts of which were filmed in New Haven last summer. also notes that,

State Reps. Jeff Berger (D-Waterbury) and Carlo Leone (D-Stamford) cited the recent announcement of Blue Sky Studios decision to relocate to Greenwich as further proof that the state is prepared to become a major player in the media industry. Berger and Leone, the co-chairs of the “Film & Entertainment Workforce Development” committee (known as ‘Hollywood East’), also hailed the announcement for its major impact on the Connecticut economy.

… The animation group plans to locate their operations in a 105,000 square foot, single floor in the Greenwich American Center. The move is poised to create 300 new jobs throughout the state. Additionally, thanks to the film-industry tax credits passed recently by the General Assembly, Blue Sky is eligible to receive up to 30 percent of their expenses exempted.

Though Connecticut may indeed gain new jobs from the move, it is highly unlikely that few if any animators living in New York will move to Connecticut because of it. At least not until a lot more studios relocate there, as most animators know from experience that there are few permanent jobs in animation .

See also these stories in Hartford Business and GlobeSt.

Author: Harvey Deneroff

Harvey Deneroff is a Los Angeles-based independent animation and film scholar specializing in labor history. He formerly taught at the Savannah College of Art and Design and was editor of Animation Magazine, Animation World Magazine, and Graiffit (published by ASIFA-Hollywood). He is the founder and past president of the Society for Animation Studies.