10. Illumination Mac Guff
A few years ago the globally famous studio Illumination Entertainment outsourced the creation of the Despicable Me animations to Mac Guff, and they were so pleased with the result that they turned around and bought the entire animation division outright in 2011. In 2012, this group brought the world the 3D animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, and last year they released Despicable Me 2, which used a $76 million budget to amass a total worldwide sales amount only $30 million short of $1 billion. We recently saw a similar relationship between Warner Bros. Animation and Animal Logic for the creation of The Lego Movie, which makes me wonder if another historic 3D animation acquisition marriage might be around the corner?!
This isn’t just one of the largest visual effect and post-production studios in London; it’s one of the most influential VFX studios in the world. While some organizations simply contribute one or a few scenes to films, Cinesite has been known for working on hundreds of VFX shorts for single films in the past, such as their extensive work for The Golden Compass, which earned them Oscar and BAFTA Awards in 2007. More recently they’ve stormed movie theaters with Into the Storm, Hercules, Edge of Tomorrow (Later renamed to Live. Die. Repeat.), X-Men: Days of Future Past, 300: Rise of an Empire, The Monuments Men, RoboCop, and about one hundred films in the years before that since the studio began in 1991. However, just recently they announced they’ll be focusing on feature animation with their first family-targeted film, Charming, already in production with 3QU Media and the same producer as Shrek, John. H. Williams. The plot will include Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty after they discover they’re all engaged to the same Prince Charming, which sounds like a formula for enough success to give Pixar yet another direct competitor in the coming years.
8. Weta Digital
This famous New Zealand VFX studio was founded in 1993 in by Peter Jackson and others, and became integral for the development of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. In the years that have followed, the studio has run through a gauntlet of other demanding VFX projects such as District 9 and Avatar, not to mention starting another Hobbit trilogy with the 2012 release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. In 2013 and 2014 combined, Weta Digital has worked on Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, The Wolverine, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Godzilla, Dawn of the Apes, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, and I. They’re currently also working on Fast & Furious 7 and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Their ongoing industry defining work has won them several Academy Awards, AEAF Awards, and BAFTAs over the years. This is a studio that continues to live up to high expectations from its fans.
7. PDI / DreamWorks
Pacific Data Images was bought by DreamWorks Animation SKG, and together the two studios are essentially the largest animation twins in the entire industry. They work together on most of their projects and you can read more about the studio merger here, but it doesn’t take a genius to know they’re one of the most influential groups of people in the world when, together or separate, their recent animation projects include How To Train Your Dragon 2, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Penguins of Madagascar, Turbo, and The Croods. That puts their recent earnings at close to two billion dollars even though they haven’t touched the Shrek series in years, and they’ve already got a dozen more films planned from 2015 to 2018. It’s going to take a big list of high quality and high quantity accomplishments for any other studios to squeeze past them in the rankings on next year’s list.
6. Walt Disney Animation Studios
After Wreck-It Ralph earned almost half a billion dollars worldwide in 2012, many critics were optimistic for the studio’s future but still insisted that Disney would remain second best to Pixar who had a decade long head start in the 3D animation industry. Then they released Frozen in 2013. What followed was an animated atomic bomb and a nuclear winter that made the world’s entire entertainment industry jealous as Frozen became the highest grossing animated film of all time. It’s the fifth bestselling worldwide film of all time with almost $1.3 billion in earnings. Will that remain as Disney’s biggest bragging right for the next decade, or are we witnessing the birth of another golden era of Disney? We’ll soon get a hint when Big Hero 6 releases in November, which Disney will then follow with Zootopia, Giants, and Moana in the next few years. When Disney challenges the rest of the 3D animation industry to stop slacking and give them a real challenge, the viewers are the real winners, and I look forward to seeing the impending battle of the 3D animation box office play out.
5. Method Studios
This world famous studio was founded in Los Angeles in 1998, and has since expanded to eight other locations at New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Vancouver, London, Sydney, and Melbourne. While some studios focus heavily on films and less on commercials, there’s almost no section of the industry that Method Studios isn’t fully present in and destroying all of their competition. Larger than life car commercials, big budget Super Bowl commercials, and even cinematics for famous video game studios. Along with several other studios in the top ten rankings of our list, Method Studios contributed greatly to nearly every single blockbuster film hit in recent years, with several more currently in development. What really sets this company apart from the most on the list is their extensive ability to not just help projects reach their full potential in a few areas of specialization, but instead their willingness to do everything and anything any client in the world could possibly need. A dozen recent films like RoboCop wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for amazing companies like Method Studios.
4. Double Negative
This British full-service visual effects powerhouse launched in 1998 with thirty people and within a few years was working on Harry Potter films. Since then they expanded to a Singapore office in 2009 and currently have over 1,000 staff members, making it Europe’s largest VFX studio for feature films. They received a BAFTA Award for their work on Inception and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, and also an Academy Award for Inception. Their pattern of excellence has continued, and in 2013 and 2014 combined they’ve worked on 17 box office hits including Fast & Furious 6, Godzilla, Interstellar, The Hunger Games films, and pretty much every other blockbuster success you can imagine. They show no signs of slowing down as they are already working on the following announced projects for the next two years: Ex Machina, Jupiter Ascending, Insurgent, Grimsby, Terminator: Genisys, Ant-Man, Heart of the Sea, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
3. Moving Picture Company
This wholly owned subsidiary of Technicolor has offices in London, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Montreal, New York, and Bangalore. Not only do they create commercials for high profile advertising clients like Samsung, but they also set out to conquer the film industry every single year. Recent films they’ve helped make successful across the globe include Maleficent, Guardians of the Galaxy, Godzilla, Elysium, Fast & Furious 6, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Prometheus, Skyfall, World War Z, and Life of Pi. Several studios worked together on Guardians of the Galaxy, but MPC contributed a jaw dropping 857 shots to the film. They’ve been integral to the existence of series such as Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean, and they’ve won or been nominated for prestigious industry awards every year in the past decade, making them one of the most consistently amazing companies in the world.
No British visual effects company has achieved as much as this studio. Founded in 1986, they acquired Computer Film Company in 1997 to become Framestore CFC for a while, then launched a New York City branch in 2004, and followed with opening more offices in Los Angeles and Montreal in the years since. BAFTA and Oscar Award wins? Check; they won one of each for their work on Golden Compass. They were nominated for Academy Awards again in 2007 (Superman Returns), 2009 (The Dark Knight), and 2010 for the first Harry Potter Deathly Hallows film. Then, last year, they proved they hadn’t peaked yet and stunned the world with their extensive work on Gravity, which took them three years to complete before it went on to win just about every VFX award in existence. This year they’ve worked on seven blockbuster hits including Guardians of the Galaxy, RoboCop, and Dracula Untold. Whereas feature films are enough workload for most studios, they’ve also created several notable TV commercials along the way, which makes their massive influence inescapable.
1. Industrial Light and Magic
In 2013 and 2014 combined, ILM worked extensively on almost twenty feature films including Pacific Rim and Transformers: Age of Extinction. I added up the worldwide earnings of all their recent films and it came out to a total of about six billion dollars. Billion. Let that sink in for a second. To put that in perspective, last year the entire box office industry released 687 films that earned a domestic total gross of $10.9 billion. Over $2.1 billion of that domestic total came from ILM films.
When you’re the best VFX studio in the world though, that’s not enough, and they’re currently working on eight more box office behemoths; business as usual for the best VFX studio in the world. To be a legend usually means doing one legendary event. They’ve done hundreds. They’re beyond legendary or epic or profound; they’re art gods, and every year they’re worshipped by every country on the planet.
It’s likely that for every single second of the past year, an ILM film was playing on at least five screens in five different countries at once. With each year that passes their lead above all others in the industry only grows larger. In 2012, I ranked them as the most influential animation studio of all time, and they still convincingly remain at the top of today’s new rankings.