Ten Minutes With Chris Wedge
Producer, director and founder of Blue Sky animation studio––movie hits include Rio and the Ice Age series
Chris Wedge grew up with just a tiny black & white TV, but that didn’t stop him from seeing the world in Technicolor. As a founder of leading animation studio Blue Sky, Wedge and his team have turned out groundbreaking hits like Rio, the Ice Age series, and last year’s Peanuts Movie. With a focus on realism and cutting-edge technology, Wedge has put his creative stamp on entertainment as we know it. He lives in Katonah where he raised his two grown children with his wife Jeanne Markel, a painter and graphic designer.
Did your interest in animation start young?
I grew up in rural upstate New York, so I made a lot of my own fun. I was really into movies and was also vividly entranced by the animated shorts like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The first thing I bought with my own money was a Super 8 camera that cost $300 in 1974. It felt like the future.
What influenced you early on?
I came of age in the ’70s with movies like The Godfather and Jason and the Argonauts. Hitchcock’s Rebecca is still one of the most immersive viewing experiences I’ve ever had. I also loved the avant-garde animation coming out then. I knew I didn’t want to be trained as a Disney animator.
How did you start out?
It was the very beginning of everything. The Apple 2 was just out. Kids were playing Pong. Through my SUNY Purchase roommate’s father, Stan Van Der Beek, I became turned on to computer graphics and started work at MAGI, a computer-animation house. They had developed a way to output and record images on film. We worked on parts of the movie Tron, and people started to take notice.
So you chose to go to Ohio instead of LA? Please explain!
Back then, the real innovation wasn’t taking place in California. I also thought if I was going to be an animator, I would need to learn to program. Ohio State had a beautiful symbiotic program where artists and technologists studied and worked together.
How did Blue Sky get started?
A group of us scraped together our own money and started from scratch. It was a rare, exciting opportunity. We began working steadily in commercials and also started my film Bunny. I spent years developing the character and story, and we also built technology to make the images as realistic as possible. Bunny won the Oscar for Best Animated Short in 1998.
Can you describe what it’s like to win an Oscar?
It was intimidating and thrilling. We were stuck up in the nosebleeds, so by the time I got to the stage, they were already flashing the “wrap it up” sign.
Animation has exploded over the last several years. What has changed the most for you?
The film schools have adopted programs, and computer technology has grown. Today, anyone with a laptop and $50 can be an animator. With technology so advanced and available, the challenge now is to come up with fantastic stories.
How did you come to live in Katonah?
After grad school, my wife and I were looking for a cheap place in the area, and some friends offered the barn on their property. We moved in 1987 and never left.