Animation Elite 2012: Chris Meledandri

In recent years, the cost of producing a blockbuster CG-animated feature has climbed well into “Titanic” territory. But not at Illumination, where founder-CEO Meledandri insists on keeping his budgets under $75 million. Made at a fraction of the competition’s expense, “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” nabbed the year’s biggest toon opening, clocking in at $70.2 million for Universal.

“We now know from extensive testing of our movies that the audience perceives no difference between our films and our competitors’ films qualitatively,” says Meledandri, whose sense of fiscal responsibility dates back to his days at Fox Animation, where his career started with an infamous toon flop. “Ever since my experience on ‘Titan A.E.,’ I realized I love making movies, but if I put myself or my company in a position to lose significant amounts of money, nobody was going to let me make movies.”

Some 15 years ago, Meledandri applied that lesson when Fox purchased Blue Sky Studios (the team behind the super-profitable “Ice Age” franchise) and it guided the deal when a similar partnership between Illumination and French toon house MacGuff was sealed in 2011. Building on recent success, the exec oversaw the opening of a “Despicable Me” theme park attraction at Universal Studios Orlando in July.

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