Production company Annapurna is launching a dedicated animation division, to be co-led by former Disney animation and Blue Sky executives Robert Baird and Andrew Millstein.
Not a complete newcomer to animation, Annapurna previously distributed Laika’s The Missing Link, co-produced Sausage Party with Columbia Pictures, and has produced several blockbuster video games. The studio’s first project out of its dedicated animation division is the previously-announced Nimona adaptation heading to Netflix next year.
This looks like huge news for the animation industry. Annapurna may be an indie company, but it’s headed by Megan Ellison, daughter of billionaire Oracle Corporation co-founder Larry Ellison and sister to Skydance founder David Ellison. The latter has already made a major impact on the animation industry, launching Skydance Animation and recruiting another former Disney animation executive, John Lasseter, to lead the studio, which is getting ready to move into a new 5.8-acre campus in Santa Monica. Wouldn’t it be something if Annapurna someday built an animation studio of its own?
Baird and Millstein recently collaborated with Annapurna to finish the work they started on Nimona when they were in charge of Blue Sky Studios, before the studio was shuttered as a result of Disney’s acquisition its parent company, 21st Century Fox. Blue Sky was the largest animation studio on the U.S.’s East Coast at the time, and there, they Baird and Millstein oversaw a team of more than 500 artists working on the studio’s slate of animated content.
Before Blue Sky, Millstein was president of Walt Disney Animation Studios where, during his tenure, the studio released blockbusters such as Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Moana, and Ralph Breaks the Internet.
Baird is a screenwriter whose credits include Monsters Inc., Cars, Monsters University, Big Hero 6, and Ferdinand.
According to Baird and Millstein, Annapurna’s new animation division will work closely with other Annapurna units, including the interactive team which produced one of 2022’s game of the year candidates, Stray.
Said Megan Ellison, founder and CEO of Annapurna: “Working with them and the Nimona team has been an incredible experience and we cannot wait for audiences to see the film. We believe adding animation alongside our other divisions, in combination with the depth of our catalog, will lead to tremendous opportunities. Anything is possible.”
Speaking with the Los Angeles Times, Baird and Millstein acknowledged that the animation industry is experiencing uncertainty right now, especially with major upheavals happening at Disney, Warner Bros., and Netflix this year. However, they told the newspaper they’re hopeful for the future.
“In terms of talking to artists now, in this particular moment that we’re in, I think they’re cognizant of the sea changes and the choppiness right now,” Millstein told the paper. “But I’m picking up a flexibility at the moment — a constructive flexibility. I feel like there’s a lot of hope and respect for what we’re trying to bring. So in spite of the choppiness, I think there’s an eagerness to be involved in something new, where there’s a lot of respect for the process.”
Baird added, “We feel for everybody — every filmmaker. We’ve been there. I think that’s one of the things that filmmakers that we work with appreciate is that we have been there and we speak the same language. We’ve gone through the same ups and downs as everyone and we’re sensitive to that. We are committed to being a harbor in the storm.”
It seems unlikely that Annapurna will be able to fill the gap left behind when Disney shut down Blue Sky, at least not fully or anytime soon, but with its impressive track record in live-action filmmaking and video game production and the appointment of two high-profile figures like Baird and Millstein, there is certainly cause for optimism that the company will do some important work and open new doors for artists and creators.