Greenwich studio installs first woman director for 2021 release
Updated 9:25 am, Tuesday, February 20, 2018
For the first time in its history, Blue Sky Studios installed a woman director to helm a feature film, with Karen Disher sharing the role with “The Peanuts Movie” director Steve Martino.
If released as planned in March 2021, “Foster” will be the 15th theatrical release for Blue Sky Studios, which has its animation studio in Greenwich where it employs more than 500 people. Walt Disney is in the process of acquiring Blue Sky Studios parent 21st Century Fox, giving Walt Disney an East Coast animation studio in addition to Disney Animation and Pixar, both based in California.
Disher and Martino will also oversee production of Blue Sky’s first-ever musical, with the “Foster” soundtrack to feature songs composed by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, coming off the duo’s Academy Award a year ago for “La La Land” and having been nominated for this year’s Oscars for “This Is Me”, from the musical “The Greatest Showman” chronicling the life of P.T. Barnum.
Disher joins a select sorority of notable woman directors in animation that includes Brenda Chapman, whom Dreamworks Animation made the first ever to direct a major theatrical release with “The Prince of Egypt” in 1998 and who would become the first Oscar-winning woman director for animation with Pixar’s “Brave” released in 2012.
The following year, Jennifer Lee became the first woman at Disney Animation to direct a major theatrical release (six decades after “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”), and who delivered with the Oscar winner “Frozen” in 2013. The film ranks 26th all-time for global box office according to the Internet Movie Database and trailing only “Finding Dory”, “Shrek 2” and “Toy Story 3” among animated features.
As the case with Chapman and Lee who were story artists at Disney, Disher ascended through Blue Sky’s artistic ranks, joining the studio after graduating from the Tisch animation school at New York University, going on to MTV where she was a character designer and supervising director for the animated TV series “Daria”, then joining Blue Sky in 2002.
Blue Sky moved to Greenwich in 2009 from White Plains, N.Y., with Disher having worked since as an artist on two movies in the “Ice Age” series as well as “Epic” and “Rio 2” and listed as head of story for the original “Rio”. Under Martino’s direction, she was a story artist for “The Peanuts Movie” and now will share the director’s chair on “Foster”.
The new Blue Sky movie will chronicle the journeys into the imagination of the titular character Foster as he places himself in the story arcs of the fantasy books he reads, with two other Blue Sky films scheduled to be released in the interim in “Spies in Disguise” and “Nimona”. With Disher, Martino, Pasek and Paul on board, Blue Sky sets out imagining “Foster” for the big screen in 2021 even as it gears up for next week’s Oscars, with “Ferdinand” up for best animated feature after its release in December.
“People, I think, tend to watch animated movies and think it’s just a bunch of people in a room pressing buttons and that the computer just magically makes the movie,” Disher said in 2016 in a Fox interview posted on YouTube, during a Paris exhibition of Blue Sky art. “In fact, it starts way before that — it starts years before the computer even gets involved. It’s traditionally trained fine arts, creating beautiful paintings and drawings and sculptures.”
Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman