Indie film/game studio Annapurna to launch animation division

Annapurna, the boutique film studio behind this year’s She Said as well as acclaimed works like Booksmart and If Beale Street Could Talk, is expanding with an animation division led by Blue Sky Studios and Walt Disney Animation veteran Robert Baird and Andrew Millstein.

The department, said Baird and Millstein, will work closely with Annapurna’s many departments, including the acclaimed interactive team, which has launched a number of imaginative, storytelling games, including this year’s cat-driven sci-fi adventure Stray. ”

The first film the team will release is the previously announced fantasy film Nimona, based on ND Stevenson’s graphic novel of the same name. Set in a futuristic medieval mashup world where both magic and science reign, Nimona follows the eponymous shapeshifter and her supervillain mentor. It began production immediately — Fox now owned and closed Blue Sky Studios, but was left without a home when Walt Disney Co. closed the studio in early 2021, resulting in about 450 layoffs.

Founded by Megan Ellison, Annapurna partnered with Netflix earlier this year to complete the film. Aimed to subvert the idea of ​​what makes a person a villain, a sidekick, or even a hero, “Nimona” asked big, existential questions about personal identity and the power of individual change.

“So much blood, sweat and tears from the Blue Sky-iers went into ‘Nimona,'” said Baird, who briefly served as Blue Sky co-boss with Millstein and has written for Disney/Pixar films like Big Hero 6 hat” and “Monsters University”.

Animation industry veteran Robert Baird, Pictures, will co-head Annapurna Pictures' new animation division.

Animation industry veteran Robert Baird, Pictures, will lead Annapurna Pictures’ new animation division with Andrew Millstein.

(Annapurna images)

“We asked people to share their life stories with us while we were making the film, and those stories found their way into this story,” Baird said. “So we wanted to make sure this was told. I know everyone says that, but this one is special.”

The studio launches at a time when the animation industry has seen many upheavals and changes. Industry reshuffles, layoffs, and consolidations at big companies like Warner Bros. Discovery and Netflix have resulted in numerous animation projects being removed from streaming services or shut down altogether.

Baird described his own experience at Blue Sky as “heartbreaking,” and Millstein, former president of Disney Animation Studios before joining Blue Sky in 2019, acknowledged the general unease currently permeating the animation community. He hopes this news will be taken as a sign of optimism amid such turmoil.

“In terms of conversations with artists right now, in this particular moment that we’re in, I think they’re aware of the changes and the volatility right now,” Millstein said. “But I’m noticing a flexibility right now – a constructive flexibility. I feel like there’s a lot of hope and respect for what we’re trying to bring. So despite the choppy nature, I think there’s an eagerness to get involved in something new where there’s a lot of respect for the process.”

Andrew Millstein, former President of Walt Disney Animation, is co-founder of an animation division at Annapurna Pictures.

Andrew Millstein, former President of Walt Disney Animation, helps establish an animation division at Annapurna Pictures.

(Annapurna images)

Baird adds, “We feel for everyone – every filmmaker. We have been there. One of the things I think filmmakers we work with appreciate is that we were there and we speak the same language. We’ve been through the same ups and downs as everyone else and we’re sensitive to it. We are committed to being a port on the storm.”

The pair weren’t ready to reveal the studio’s first original project just yet, but noted that feature films and TV series are being considered. Baird said they would also be looking closely at games published by Annapurna to find an opportunity to expand on the studio’s own intellectual property. He cited such acclaimed works as What Remains of Edith Finch, a game that explores the mysteries of death amid a complex family lineage with a fairytale tone, and the recently released Neon White, a fast-paced shoot-and-run title sinners and assassins crossing heaven and hell as works rich in narrative possibilities.

“To have the opportunity to see this catalog first-hand and to have the opportunity to maybe adapt something from this catalog is an exciting idea for us,” Baird said. “These games are so driven by storytelling, and it feels like the worlds being created are right for us and what we love to do.”

Baird and Millstein said they got a close look at how the studio’s games department worked during the completion of Nimona. Game development and feature animation were almost identical,” said Baird. “That was another reason why this seemed like a natural fit.”

It was Annapurna’s experience with games, Millstein said, that made him feel the studio would bet on animation for the long term. Annapurna President Nathan Gary was previously an executive at Sony’s Santa Monica Studio, the video game design company best known for the God of War franchise. “Sometimes when you talk about animation with people who don’t know anything about animation, you’re speaking a different language when it comes to how animated films are developed and produced,” Millstein said.

The pair declined to say what type of stories or themes might ultimately be produced, but said they would fit comfortably within the Annapurna catalogue, which has an arthouse-centric reputation in all its departments.

“If you look at the Annapurna catalog and how diverse it is, the only thing that’s consistent across the board is that it’s high-quality stories that are lasting, meaningful and challenging,” Baird said. “We’re happy to do that. I think the evidence is there in Nimona and will be there in what we do in the future. We are committed to telling great stories that will sit on the shelf alongside everything else in the Annapurna catalogue.” Indie film/game studio Annapurna to launch animation division

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