Seeking to strengthen its position and deepen its areas of expertise, L.A.-based VIFX’s parent company, Very Imaginative Pictures Inc., has acquired a majority interest in upstate New York-based animation specialists Blue Sky Studios, as expected (Daily Variety, Aug. 27).

The new combined entity, to be known (at least for the near term) as Blue Sky/VIFX, will be headquartered in Southern California and boast some 250 employees — for now, at least, as new CEO David Brown expects to ramp up full-time employment at the new combined image factory by as much as 30% by year’s end.

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No particular details on the buyout were available, but company CFO Eugene Straub said that VIFX made the purchase on its own, with no financial assistance from Fox Inc., which purchased a majority stake in the house in 1996. Nor did Fox executives directly influence the purchase of Blue Sky, though anyone familiar with Fox’s ambitious animation plans would assume Blue Sky’s expertise in animation post could only be of benefit to the studio.

Folding the two companies into one larger entity will allow Blue Sky/VIFX to marry the former’s strength in 3-D character animation and computer graphics generation with the latter’s impressive physical production capabilities and motion-control and motion-capture facilities.

“We feel like there is now no job too large or too small that we cannot easily accommodate,” said the new entity’s prexy and senior f/x supervisor, Richard Hollander, at a press conference Wednesday announcing the merger. “We also will be busily pushing out the technological envelope on phone-line transmission of data and images — not just teleconferencing, but actual collaboration in real time.”

Having a bicoastal company provides no particular benefit, Brown said. “Business comes to us from all over the place,” he said, “and, if anything, having a facility on each coast only saves certain overnight shipping charges.”

“Though we will be very engaged in instantaneous transmission of images and data,” Hollander added, “there is still no substitute to putting people on airplanes and having them shake the hands of other people.” Very few current Blue Sky/VIFX employees will be relocated permanently because of the deal, he said.

And although survival is very much on people’s mind in the f/x industry, Brown said, “the timing of this deal, following the closing of Boss Film, is purely coincidental, and that unfortunate occurrence had no influence on our thinking.”

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