SF Bay Area

Blue Sky Offers Insight on Their Studio Culture and Summer Internship Program

Students lined up for the presentation by representatives Mindy Berardini and BJ Crawford

By Erasmo Guerra

Academy of Art University students from across a number of departments came to the 79 New Montgomery theater on Thursday, Feb. 21, to attend a presentation by Blue Sky Studios. A film company that evolved from a special effects house to a computer animation studio, Blue Sky’s first animated feature film was the 2002 hit “Ice Age.” The night of the presentation, Academy students lined up the entire length of one hallway and down another as they waited for the theater doors to open.

Standing first in line was David Chang, an international student from Taiwan who is in his first semester in the School of Animation & Visual Effects (ANM). A fan of “Ice Age” when he was a kid, Chang said he came to the presentation to hear about the skills he’d need to develop to become a professional in the animation industry.

Ariel Hsiung, another international ANM student from Taiwan in her first semester, who was also at the head of the line, agreed. She said that she wanted to hear about “what I should be doing creatively and professionally” as a student in order to prepare for the working world. She added that she was inspired to get into the animation industry with a focus on 3-D lighting and compositing after watching the Disney animated movie “Tangled.”

Almost everyone else in line wanted to learn more specifically about Blue Sky’s summer internship program, which was the focus for the bulk of the presentation led by Blue Sky representatives Mindy Berardini, recruiter and talent development associate, and BJ Crawford, animation development lead.

Berardini kicked off the presentation by saying that “everyone at Blue Sky is a filmmaker” from the front office receptionist to the recruiter and talent development associate. “Everyone’s opinions and feedback on a film is welcome,” she said, later sharing a story about one recent summer intern who proposed a project during a pitch fest that was then green-lit.

As she played a video that walked through Blue Sky HQ (located in Greenwich, Connecticut, north of New York City), showing office cubicles redone as movie theater concession stands and as fantasy wooded forests, Berardini described the office environment as “fun, open, and collaborative—as long as it’s fire safe.” She went on to describe an office culture that went on yoga retreats, enjoyed Vermont ski trips in winter, and competed in kickball tournaments in the fall. At last count, Berardini said there were 10 “Dungeons and Dragons” groups among fellow co-workers.

The presentation included a screening of the movie trailer for their upcoming fall release “Spies in Disguise,” an animated movie that features the voices of Will Smith and Tom Holland. Also shown were demo reels of recent applicants who had successfully landed an internship. As Berardini explained it, it’s a paid, 10-week summer program that provides mentorship and structured work experience.

“You don’t get anyone coffee, except for yourself,” she insisted.

The ultimate goal of the internship was to make the student hireable at the end of the program.

Crawford spoke about his own work as the animation development lead, coming up with character expression sheets, storyboards, and working on 2-D animation tests. “That’s the big part of development,” he said, “figuring out how the film is going to look and feel.”

He also mentioned that another big part of what goes on at the studio is something between continuing education and TED Talk-like lectures where fellow co-workers give presentations about what they love. “What you’re learning in school does not stop,” Crawford said. As an example, he summarized one of the recent talks he gave on the silent film “City Lights” starring Charlie Chaplin, breaking down a few scenes by contrast, eye direction, and movement. He pointed out that “silent film has a strong connection to animation” because both genres employ broad actions.

In the final Q&A portion of the presentation, Berardini stressed the importance of submitting a portfolio that was appropriate for the kind of work they produce at Blue Sky. Last year they accepted 20 interns into their summer program. And, Berardini said that a demo reel demonstrating skill in 3-D animation would get you into the room with a hiring manager. “We only want to see your very best work,” she said.

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