Skydance Animation, the controversial animation studio headed by former Disney and Pixar animation creative head John Lasseter, has acquired the animation unit of Madrid, Spain-based Ilion Studios. The new studio will be called Skydance Animation Madrid.

The combined manpower at the studio in Madrid and Skydance’s headquarters in Los Angeles will totally nearly 500 employees.

“The world is going through an unprecedented and uncertain time. Today’s acquisition marks the culmination of many months of work to build one studio across two continents, with the goal of creating the highest-quality animation, led by best-in-class talent from around the world,” said David Ellison, chief executive officer of Skydance Media. “The addition of Skydance Animation Madrid to our portfolio of businesses underlines my passion and commitment to bringing iconic animated stories and characters to life from some of the most talented artists and voices in the industry.”

Added Ignacio Pérez Dolset, founder, president and chief creative officer of Ilion, “We are excited to expand our partnership with Skydance Animation and to further collaborate with Skydance founder David Ellison and elite talent like John Lasseter and Holly Edwards [president, Skydance Animation]. This is a phenomenal growth opportunity for our team in Spain and we’re proud to be an integral part of Skydance’s exciting future.”

Ilion’s prior films include Mortadelo y Filemón, Planet 51, and Paramount Animation’s Wonder Park.

In broad terms, the deal sounds similar to Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment’s acquisition of the animation division of French studio Mac Guff Ligne, which was renamed Illumination Mac Guff. That 2011 deal has allowed Illumination to produce its successful slate of feature films, including the Despicable Me and Secret Life of Pets franchises, at a lower cost than its fully-American studio counterparts, while still maintaining a high standard of quality.

Skydance has indicated that it will not only use Ilion for its upcoming slate of feature films, but also for several yet-to-be-announced television series that are currently in various stages of development.

The other notable aspect of this deal is that the acquisition puts an entire animation studio under Lasseter’s supervision. Skydance and Ilion already had a close partnership prior to this announcement, but presumably Lasseter will now exercise a more hands-on approach in developing Ilion’s animation capabilities to American industry standards.

Lasseter started as the head of animation at Skydance in January 2019, just nine days after his contract ended with the Walt Disney Company. Skydance’s immediate hiring of Lasseter, despite extensive and credible allegations of sexual misconduct against him, caused a mini-furor in the animation industry.

The biggest fallout was the withdrawal of Emma Thompson from a voice acting role in Luck. Also, media reports suggested that Lasseter’s arrival strained the relationship between Skydance Animation and its co-production partner Paramount Animation.

After that initial burst of publicity in early 2019, a cloak of secrecy went up around Skydance Animation and Lasseter in particular. As far as we know, Lasseter has not made any public statements or appearances in the year-and-change since he’s taken over Skydance.

However, there’s signs that everything hasn’t been smooth behind the scenes. A few months ago, it was revealed that Alessandro Carloni had stepped down as director of Luck over “creative differences.” He was replaced in the position by Peggy Holmes, a dance-choreographer-turned-animation-director whose undistinguished animation resume includes some Disney direct-to-video projects overseen by Lasseter.

Here is a list of Skydance’s announced film projects:

  • Luck, directed by Peggy Holmes (The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning) and written by Kiel Murray (Cars, Cars 3) and Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (the Kung Fu Panda series): When the unluckiest girl alive stumbles upon the never-before-seen world of good and bad luck, she must join together with magical creatures to uncover a force more powerful than even luck itself.
  • Spellbound (working title), directed by Vicky Jenson (Shrek, Shark Tale) and written by Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin (Mulan [2020]) and Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King): A musical fantasy set in a world of magic where a young girl sets out to break the spell that has split her kingdom in two.
  • Pookoo (working title/currently in development). Written and directed by Nathan Greno (Tangled) and produced by Jennifer Magee-Cook (The Princess and the Frog).

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