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Meet Chris Wedge, 'Ice Age' Creator

Meet Chris Wedge, whom locals will have a chance to encounter as part of the upcoming Katonah Museum of Art exhibit that features the art work of the animation company he co-founded, Blue Sky Studios.

The opens its newest exhibit, “" on Sun. Sept. 16. The exhibit unpacks the process of animation from A-Z through workshops, gallery talks and family activities that include professional animators and filmmakers from Blue Sky Studios collaborating with participants at both the Katonah Museum and the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville.

Patch interviewed Chris Wedge, a longtime Katonah resident, director of "Ice Age" and co-founder of Blue Sky Studios, about his animation career and upcoming art programs.

Patch: You've held many roles: director (Ice Age and Robots, among others), producer (Horton Hears a Who, among others), writer and actor. What role do you like best?  And how does on inform the other?

Wedge: Directing is the most fun, writing can be lonely, and acting, I do very little of. I like a crew of people around me and the role of "leading the band." It's fun to make something together—it's collaboration that I really like. I like people yelling out their ideas.

Patch: Did you ever think you'd be voicing the role of Scrat (the prehistoric squirrel in the Ice Age film series) for over ten years?

Wedge: (laughs). When we make films, we draw storyboards and put them into our editing systems. My voice was there as a placeholder before we cast Scrat—and that's what we ended up using in the movie. It’s not my day job.

Patch:  Museum organizers say this exhibit will inspire young kids to consider careers in animation. How did you get started on that path?

Wedge: I got interested in animation when I was a 12-year-old kid. Back then, there was a TV special about kids making cut-out animation in a workshop—as I recall it was yellow ball workshop—it was a clear technique to follow and I followed it. That fascinated me and it got me started. It was so simple, effective and magical in outcome and I stuck with creating things throughout my childhood, teenage years and then college.

Patch: The process of animation sounds so painstaking—I learned that an animated film can include 130,000 individual frames and take three years to complete. Is there room for improvising during that process?

Wedge: It does take a long time, but at every moment there are creative decisions to make. There are moments are when we are drawing boards and coming up with ideas, or during the editing process, when we choose which of the actors' takes to use. It's all wide open and you leave the road paved behind you. When you are originating a piece, it has to be something you are excited about—and we think about the impact of the story. There’s a lot of brainwork to get story right and then the technique comes later.

Patch: You've lived in Katonah with your wife and kids for about 25 years? What do you like about living here? 

Wedge: It's a great, close-knit community. Everyone knows everyone else and it's my home. It's a comfortable spot and it's one hour from the center of the world.

Patch: Many of the Blue Sky team will be participating in the KMA exhibit. How would you describe the team?

Wedge: They come in all shapes and sizes. It's an interest in animation that brings them together. These movies have been so complicated and it takes many disciplines to pull them off—from drawing to painting to sculpting to lighting and more technical aspects like programming, systems administration.

Patch: And what advice would you give to someone desiring a career in animation?

Wedge: Do the thing that most interests you and keep doing it. The harder you work, the more you produce—the more there is for people to see. There is a wide variety of skills needed in the industry for people to find a home there.

Patch: What are some of the changes you've seen in the making of animated movies since you founded Blue Sky over 25 years ago?

Wedge: The biggest change is in the way we make them—and obviously there are more animated films out there now. When we started Blue Sky, not too many characters were made by computers. Computer-generated images were used more for effects. Then you saw them pop up in commercials, then feature films. Now even TV shows are being made by computers and live action films are made using computers for certain shots—to insert crowds in a backgrounds, for example. It's a ubiquitous technique now.

Patch: What do you hope people take away from the 'Ice Age' exhibit?

Wedge: Most people picture these movies being made in California. I hope they realize we’ve been around as long as Pixar, my office is 20 minutes from the museum where they are learning about our work. People that museum-goers might pass on the street work at Blue Sky. I hope people learn that we have a vital bureau right here. It's nice to have this outreach for people to understand that. This exhibit gives you a look at how animated movies are made. When you peek behind the curtain, you see real people are talking to each other and organizing themselves to do something that ends up being spectacular—and it that it comes from the small indivudal efforts from regular people.

Patch: Can you tell us about your next film Epic? (Wedge is directing the film, which features the voices of Beyoncé, Josh Hutcherson and Colin Farrell, among others, and is due in theatres May 2013.)

Wedge: Sure. It's a 3D action-adventure-comedy. I've been thinking about this for a long time...the film is a fun take on a world that may exist in the woods right behind our houses...where a leaf man protects the forests from evil.

For more information about the museum's exhibit and programs, click here.

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