20. Studio Pierrot
In 2012 I ranked this studio as the 13th most influential animation studio of all time. The Bleach anime series ran from 2004 to 2012 and wasn’t even close to this studio’s longest running most recent achievement in the anime industry. Their Naruto anime franchise has been running nonstop since 2002, making it arguably the greatest anime series of all time. Entire generations grew up on it, grew older, saw new generations emerge to also become Naruto fans, and then both generations kept on watching it together. Pierrot isn’t a one trick ninja though, and in recent years has also been involved with Kingdom, Polar Bear Café, season two of The Legend of Korra, Gaist Crusher, Baby Steps, The World is Still Beautiful, Sabagebu!, Tokyo Ghoul, Akatsuki no Yona, and the film The Tale of Princess Kaguya. Add to all of this the rumors that the Bleach anime could be coming back and the Naruto manga could have its end in its sights, and this will definitely be a studio to watch closely in the coming years. Could this be the end of an era?
19. Digital Domain
This American VFX production company has been involved with over 100 feature films and earned three prestigious Academy Awards for their work on Titanic, What Dreams May Come, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, as well as four more Academy Awards for their proprietary art software that helped raise the bar for the entire visual effects industry in the areas of tracking, compositing, volumetric renderers, and fluid simulation systems. They’ve also earned several BAFTA Awards and have been nominated for five other Academy Awards for Apollo 13, True Lies, I, Robot, Real Steel, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. For most of the years since they were founded in 1993 they were one of the best studios in the world. Then, in 2012, their debt issues resulted in layoffs and bankruptcy, but not even problems of that magnitude could stop this legendary studio. Majority ownership of the company changed hands and lately they’ve bounced back by impressing audiences with their scenes in Maleficent, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Iron Man 3, Her, Ender’s Game, Oblivion, and 47 Ronin.
18. Hybride Technologies
You know you’re impressive when you’re bought by one of the largest video game studios in the world. This studio began in 1991, has worked on over 1,000 advertising campaigns, dozens of full films, and in 2008 was acquired by Ubisoft. Last year they worked on five box office films including the humongous hit, Pacific Rim. This year they’ve worked the television series Hemlock Grove and From Dusk till Dawn, as well as four feature films including this summer’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.
17. Rodeo FX
This studio began in 2006 and has already amassed over 200 people who have worked on more than 70 films! Their main office is in Montreal with two new locations in Los Angeles and Quebec City. They don’t just contribute to the film industry either; recently you’ve probably seen their epic effects in HBO’s Game of Thrones! Recent film successes that they’ve worked on include Birdman, Unbroken, Lucy, Edge of Tomorrow, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Enemy, Now You See Me, Pain & Gain, and 200 shots for Pacific Rim!
One of the most famous names in the VFX industry, this studio was founded in Germany in 2001, and currently has hundreds of employees working across its studios in in Frankfurt, Munich, Stuttgart, Los Angeles, Beijing, Toronto, and Baton Rouge. In 2012, they won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for their work on the film Hugo. They contributed 854 scenes to the film with a total running time of about 62 minutes! In 2013 and 2014 combined they’ve worked on almost two dozen different film and TV projects of varying sizes, and you’ve probably seen their work in Game of Thrones, which earned them an Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Visual Effects.
15. Prime Focus World
What began in Mumbai in 1997 with four people working out of a garage on Bollywood projects grew to a staff of thousands of people employed at offices in Mumbai, Los Angeles, London, Vancouver, Beijing, and New York. Their recent filmography list includes Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, The Expendables 3, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Into the Storm, Guardians of the Galaxy, Hercules, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Edge of Tomorrow, Maleficent, and the list goes on. They acquired several studios from 2006 to 2008 and their momentum shows no signs of slowing down going into next year.
14. Sony Picture Imageworks
This VFX and character animation studio in Vancouver has been involved with a wide range of different box office series, and has been recognized by the Academy Awards with Oscar wins for their work on Spider-Man 2 and the short film The ChubbChubbs! In 2003, Sony Pictures Animation was founded as their sister production company, and since then this studio has done several animated films for them including Open Season, Surf’s Up, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs film series, and The Smurfs films series. Last year they released a new Smurfs and Cloudy film, and they currently have Hotel Transylvania 2 and another unannounced Smurfs film in the works!
13. Blue Sky Studios
This studio was founded in 1987 by a group of artists who worked on Tron, but they remained relatively small in fame and influence until they stampeded into the world’s spotlight in 2002 with their 3D animated feature film, Ice Age. And thus, an empire was born! They’ve released 3D animated films almost yearly since then, and their works have earned billions of dollars in sales. Last year their highly underrated film Epic underperformed compared to their other hits, but this year Rio 2 has already earned half a billion dollars. Charlie Brown fans will be glad to know that next year they’ll unleash a 3D animated Peanuts film, and Ice Age 5 is already in the works along with film projects Ferdinand and Anubis!
Okay, time to face the facts. The least impressive part of Pixar’s prestigious timeline is its most recent schedule of releases: Cars 2, followed by Brave, followed by Monsters University, followed by nothing in 2014 but the short film, Lava. It begs the two questions: have we already seen the best film Pixar will ever release, and, have we still not seen the worst film Pixar will ever release? What’s next? They used to be the entire 3D animated film industry. Then the awards were being split between them and Pacific Data Images. Then Illumination Mac Guff. Then Disney made their comeback. Now hundreds are following the flood waters into the industry and nipping at their heels, and the competition is rising rapidly. Monsters University brought in over $740 million worldwide in 2013, and the influence of the millions of screens still playing Toy Story to this day still earns them bonus influence, but unless something starts to change their comparative influence will keep slipping. Luckily they have two feature films planned for next year, then a Finding Nemo sequel, and then several other unannounced projects in the works. The iconic Luxo Ball is in their court.
11. Nickelodeon Animation Studios
Nickelodeon was like a third parent for most of us growing up, and it still is for millions of kids today. Amazing films come and go each month, but when Nickelodeon shows are on the TV screens in your house all day every day, then it’s a far deeper influence than you feel from most of the animated films that come out each year. I still feel the influence from their earliest series in my head and heart decades later, and as I grow older I’m continually noticing the influence of their new animated shows on today’s generation of children in the world. You can’t have a discussion about the most influential animation studios in the industry today without a chapter dedicated to this company and the countless influential creators it works with. In just the past two years alone they’ve helped bring the world the shows Fanboy and Chum Chum, Planet Sheen, T.U.F.F. Puppy, Robot and Monster, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Legend of Korra, Sanjay and Craig, and Breadwinners. There’s another two dozen influential animation projects they’ve been involved in lately but I’ll spare you the wall of text. Another year is passing, and it’s been yet another successful year for Nickelodeon and the countless living rooms they inhabit every day of the year.