Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: After Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment established itself as a reliable provider of family films for Universal Pictures chairman Adam Fogelson and co-chairman Donna Langley, the studio has expanded its commitment to the division by acquiring the French animation unit of Mac Guff Ligne. That’s the Paris-based concern that has animated such Illumination films as Despicable Me and Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. The animators there will work full time on Illumination fare and Universal has also taken a long term lease on the the 35,000 square foot animation facility–housed above an Aston Martin dealership right near the Eiffel Tower–where the staff works. The animation unit is being renamed Illumination Mac Guff. The move gives Meledandri a dedicated staff and the equipment needed to grow its family film output. It is somewhat reminiscent of the strategy used by Fox and Meledandri when he was president of Fox Animation and the studio acquired Blue Sky Studios, the Connecticut-based generator of Fox’s CG animated films like Ice Age.

“In acquiring an animation studio located half way around the world, we are evolving our filmmaking model; one that is creating entertainment despite borders, boundaries and languages,” Meledandri said in a statement. “This is possible because of the exceptional leadership provided by Janet Healy in running our films and by Jacques Bled in having been one of the key founders of MGL. Above all, this acquisition is a tribute to extraordinary artistic, production and technical talent that is constantly walking the halls of Mac Guff. Universal has once again shown its incredible support of our company by this purchase.”

Universal brought Meledandri over in 2007 from Fox Animation to start its first family film unit. During that formation, Meledandri forged the relationship with Mac Guff and its president, Jacques Bled. With Bled and Healy (the Despicable Me producer who spends most of her time in Paris), they recruited animators whose mostly worked on Illumination fare. At the height of a film’s production, as many as 350 artists work on the films. Bled and Healy will be co-presidents of Illumination Mac Guffe, reporting to Meledandri, and Robert Taylor and Barbara Zipperman are also part of the brain trust.

Bled and his partners separately have a vfx component that has worked for such films as Splice and Columbiana. Bled and his partners will continue to own that business, and Universal isn’t involved in it.

Illumination next releases Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax on March 2, and is working on features that include a Despicable Me sequel, a feature based on Ricky Gervais Flanimals books, a film based on the Uglydoll toy line, and a Tim Burton-directed stop motion animation project based on Charles Addams’ original Addams Family drawings.