Illumination Entertainment is an American film production company, founded by Chris Meledandri in 2007. It is owned by Universal Studios and based in Santa Monica, California. It is best known for its 2010 animated feature Despicable Me.
Meledandri left his post as President of 20th Century Fox Animation in early 2007 and founded Illumination Entertainment. By 2008, a deal was announced positioning Illumination as NBC Universal’s family entertainment arm that would produce one to two films a year starting in 2010. It is co-owned by Universal who exclusively distributes the films, but Illumination retains creative control as an independent production company.
The company does not have an in-house animation studio. Instead it subscribes to a philosophy of "global film making" - contracting independent studios all over the world on a film-by-film basis. In its work, Illumination maintains creative control over development, script, marketing, publicity, and production, from under one roof but extends its reach across the globe to subcontractors which perform actual work. This is most practical in the field of animated films, since there is no need for actual sets and the presence of human actors. For instance, in the 2010 film Despicable Me, the computer graphics were subcontracted to Mac Guff studios in Paris, France.
Meledandri is determined to keep his company adhering to a low-cost model, recognizing that “strict cost controls and hit animated films are not mutually exclusive”. In an industry where movie expenses often exceed $100 million, Illumination’s first two releases were completed with significantly lower budgets, considering Despicable Me’s $69 million budget and the $63 million budget of Hop. One way the company sustains a lean financial model is by employing cost-conscious animation techniques that lower the expenses and render times of its computer graphics. In addition, animators will often re-use certain components of a scene or eliminate details that are extraneous and costly to render. Other cost saving techniques include the use of matte paintings versus CGI animation for background shots, producing two pictures each year by 2013, hiring young, less expensive animators and first time directors, and maintaining a “development ratio of 3.5 projects bought for each one made”. During the summer 2011, the French studio Mac Guff has been splitted in two and the animation department has been acquired by Illumination Entertainment. With a capital of 3.2 millions of euros, the new company is named "Illumination Mac Guff" and is in charge of the fabrication of CGI feature movies for Illumination Entertainment.