Case Study: ‘Despicable Me’

Scout & About: Paris/Ile de France 2012

Five years ago, Chris Meledandri moved from Fox, where he had helped forge the “Ice Age” franchise, to Universal. The following year his shingle, Illumination Entertainment, was unveiled and Janet Healy, the former DreamWorks Animation co-head, joined to oversee production.

Their first project, 3D toonpic “Despicable Me,” did its animation at Paris vfx and toon house Mac Guff Ligne, headed by Jacques Bled. Produced on a $69 million budget, the film grossed $543 million.

In 2010, France introduced its Tax Rebate for Intl. Productions (TRIP) program, which gave Illumination an added reason to continue its partnership with Mac Guff. “It was the tax credits that made it an easy decision to stay for the second movie,” Healy says.

Thus Mac Guff also did the animation for “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,” which had a $70 million budget. Although it has yet to complete its international rollout, the pic has already grossed over $250 million.

The relationship between Illumination and Mac Guff was cemented late last year when Universal bought the French company’s animation unit, renaming it Illumination Mac Guff, with Healy and Bled at its helm.

The shingle is now working on “Despicable Me 2.”

“The crew here is amazing,” Healy says. “There’s such a concentration of talent that Jacques has formed over the years, and we’ve brought in new people in the last three or four years as well. It is a great balance of fantastic artists and solid, intelligent coders and technicians.”

“What happens over time as you make movies is the complexity increases and so it requires more staff,” Healy adds. “It also means that as we know more about making films in this pipeline, we are more careful because we can see the landmines ahead of us.”

Healy cites several advantages to working on a sequel. “We don’t have to think about the technology. We can think about the comedic tone and the new characters, and we are making the look even richer. It’s been liberating in a way.”

She adds: “We have realized all sorts of pipeline enhancements that we need to do to stay competitive, to find the visual expression of what we all have in mind. It is an evolution of making the whole place more robust so we can push the envelope more.”

As the company continues to up the ante creatively, “there are things we rework at every step of the way to make sure every moment is as funny or heartfelt, and as beautiful or dramatic as it possibly can be.”

Another strength of the French team is its ability to produce high-quality animation without breaking the bank. “We’re excited and proud of our business model because not only are we making movies that we love and that the audience responds to, but we are making them extremely efficiently on very short schedules,” Healy says.

“Despicable Me 2” is due to be released in July 2013, but there will be no rest.

“The development team are spending a lot of time thinking about what’s next, because it’s our intention to make sure that we have continuous full employment,” Healy concludes. “We’re here for the long haul.”

Scout & About: Paris/Ile de France 2012
TRIP’s next step is going abroad | Besson-built studio beckons bizzers | Pushing local biz, pulling int’l prods
Case Studies
‘Chinese Zodiac’ | ‘Despicable Me” | ‘Odd Thomas’

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