A chill has fallen over the red-hot animation industry.
That’s thanks to “Ice Age,” the 20th Century Fox film that has grossed $120 million since its March 15 release. The story of a wooly mammoth, a sloth and a saber-toothed tiger who band together to return a human infant to his tribe has struck a chord with young and old movie-goers alike.
Among those who helped bring the hit film to the screen was a Maine native, Scott Robideau, who works as an animator at Blue Sky Studios, Fox’s animation wing.
Talking by phone from Blue Sky’s office in White Plains, N.Y., Robideau has been pleased with the response from the movie-going public.
“It’s been really satisfying to see people react,” the China native said. “It makes all the hard work that went into making the gags and writing work worthwhile.”
Robideau, 26, joined Blue Sky in January of 2001, when animation on “Ice Age” was already in full swing. Animation production of the film began in July of 2000, and wrapped in November 2001. All told, Robideau estimated that the film “easily encompassed” three years from preproduction through postproduction.
Robideau added that probably 99 percent of the animated images in “Ice Age” are computer generated. The exceptions are the backgrounds, which are hand-painted by matte artists.
Blue Sky Studios was founded in 1987 by, among others, Chris Wedge, director of “Ice Age.” Its credits include the 1998 Academy Award winning short film “Bunny.” According to its Web site, its mission is “to pioneer creatively superior photo-realistic, high-resolution, computer-generated character animation for the feature film, television and entertainment industries.” It was bought by Fox Filmed Entertainment in 1999.
Robideau, the son of Scott and Ginny Robideau of Unity, works in the studio’s animation department.
“We concentrate on performance of the characters,” he explained. “We find performances for the actors’ dialogue, or action that can describe the story point. We’re concerned with motion. Rather than concentrate on specific characters, we do it on a shot-by-shot basis.”
By the time the film was complete, it consisted of millions of individual shots, Robideau said.
One of the highlights of “Ice Age” is the ultra-realistic backgrounds upon which the action takes place. Robideau said that the credit for that goes to the film’s technical directors.
“The technical directors often get overlooked,” he said. “They attack with color, light and shadow to get the look that the film has.”
The 1994 Waterville High School graduate first got to see the completed film at its March 10 premiere at Radio City Music Hall. He later went to a local cinema, “to hear a more genuine reaction to it.”
When viewing the film with his co-workers, they would pick out each other’s work when it flashed on screen.
“It would be like, ‘That’s so-and-so’s shot,’ ‘That’s someone else’s shot,’ ” he recalled. “It was a lot more fun to watch it with people that are fresh to it. Hearing their reactions, you start to remember what it was like when you heard it for the first time.”
Robideau said that seeing his name in the credits didn’t affect him that much.
“I’ve been chasing this stuff for too long,” he said. “It was neat, but I didn’t google over it.”
Robideau has risen in the animation world in a relatively brief time. After graduating from high school, where he won the Donald Perkins Art Scholarship, he went to college at Ringling’s School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla. While he’s heard all the jokes about “clown college,” he said that wasn’t the case at the school founded by circus magnate John Ringling.
“It’s largely unknown among art colleges, but it’s the second or third best computer-animation program in the country,” he said. “It’s tripled in size since I left.”
His first job out of college was at Wil Vinton Studios in Portland, Ore., perhaps best known for its work with the “California Raisins” commercials. Among the commercials he worked on were the talking M&Ms (no, he didn’t animate Stephen Baldwin) and the “blue splat” ad for AT&T, which aired during the 2000 Summer Olympics. He went from Vinton to Blue Sky.
With animated films such as “Anastasia” and “Titan A.E.” faltering at the box office, Fox needed “Ice Age” to be a hit. The Blue Sky animators also found themselves chasing Disney’s Pixar Studios, creators of “Toy Story,” “Toy Story 2,” and “Monsters Inc.,” which remains the front-runner in the computer-generated animation field.
“They’re perfectionists when it comes to CGI,” Robideau said. “We felt the weight on our shoulders to keep up to that level. I’m not sure we got there, but we gave it our best shot.”
With “Ice Age,” Blue Sky finds itself the first potential nominee for next year’s Best Animated Feature, a new category for the Academy Awards won by “Shrek” this year.
“It’s so brand new,” Robideau said. “We’re excited, but it creates more competitive tension from the big studios, to push the animation as far as it can go. It’s a whole new race now.”
Next up for Robideau is “Robots.” Fortunecity.com reported that Fox Animation and Blue Sky have launched development on the film, a collaboration between Wedge and children’s book author William Joyce (“Rolie Polie Olie”), set in a world populated by robots. Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (“City Slickers,” “Splash”) have been writing a draft of the script.
With the success of “Ice Age,” the animators of Blue Sky feel the need to up the ante on “Robots.”
“We feel the pressure to come through on the next movie, to make it that much funnier, to make the performances that much better,” Robideau said.