French VFX & Animation

While many animation and vfx companies are facing financial hurdles, French exec Jacques Bled has secured his shingle Mac Guff a sweet deal. Company has been acquired by Universal to become part of Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment.

The Paris-based outfit splits into two companies: Illumination Mac Guff, now exclusively dedicated to animating Illumination/Universal features; and Mac Guff, which will continue creating vfx on live-action movies, toons and commercials.

At the helm of Illumination Mac Guff stand two toppers: Bled, a vfx veteran and 3D enthusiast who co-founded the company in 1986 and has produced a handful of toons (from “Kirikou” to “Dragon Hunters”); and producer Janet Healy, a soft-spoken L.A. native who’s spent the bulk of her long career working on DreamWorks and Disney movies.

The duo’s unusual cultural mix has proven highly effective on such pics as “Despicable Me,” a smash hit that cost just $69 million and earned $251 million in the U.S. and $543 million worldwide.

The Lorax,” based on the Dr. Seuss book, was an even bigger challenge than “Despicable Me” in many respects, per Healy and Bled. But it was made in 18 months and is about to be delivered on schedule. Production on “Despicable Me 2″ has just kicked off.

Although the Universal buyout doesn’t alter the day-to-day organization of Mac Guff’s animation unit, it does bring extra resources and allows Healy and Bled to be more proactive.

Bled says the company has upped the ante on all the tools and pushed the creative envelope on “The Lorax.”

Healy concurs: “There are fur characters in so many scenes, so many musical numbers, a Truffula Forest, a big water sequence and multiple scenes with many characters in them. All of these elements are highly intensive to render.”

Mixing French and American work habits took some adjustment but was well worth the effort, confides Bled.

“In France we do things differently: The storyboard is locked so at the beginning our animators took it personally when we asked them to redo a shot. But now they understand it’s part of the process to make the film as good as it can be,” he explains.

“The production and artistic teams have gotten better and better because of the intellectual tools that Janet and Chris (Renaud, co-helmer of “Despicable Me” and “The Lorax”) brought from their previous experiences with U.S. studios.”

Illumination Mac Guff now schedules hours so it can have joint editorial, art direction and music sessions with Los Angeles.

Says Healy: “It’s really important for us to have a worldwide perspective to make sure that lots of points of views are reflected in our films.”

For the Gallic animation industry, losing Mac Guff to Universal isn’t such good news. Bled says the company recently completed its last indie, Michel Ocelot’s “Kirikou 3,” and won’t take on another third-party toon project.

But for French and European animators looking to work on U.S. blockbusters without relocating to the States, Illumination Mac Guff is a great alternative to L.A.-based studios.

As Healy points out, “A lot of people want to live in Paris, stay near their families, eat all that good food…and now they know there’s longterm employment on quality animation movies here at Illumination Mac Guff.”

FRENCH VFX & ANIMATION:
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