Illumination is an American animation film production company, founded by Chris Meledandri in 2007. It is currently owned by Universal Pictures, a subsidiary of Comcast. The company is best known for its first animated feature film Despicable Me (2010), its sequel, Despicable Me 2 (2013) and its first $1 billion highest-grossing film and prequel/spin-off to the Despicable Me films, Minions (2015).
Meledandri left his post as President of 20th Century Fox Animation in early 2007 where he supervised or executive produced movies including Ice Age (2002), its sequel Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006), Robots (2005), Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007), and Horton Hears a Who! (2008). After leaving, he 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. As an independent production company, Illumination retains creative control and Universal exclusively distributes the films. During the summer 2011, Illumination acquired the animation department of the French animation and visual effects studio Mac Guff, which animated Despicable Me (2010) and The Lorax (2012), and formed Illumination Mac Guff.
On April 28, 2016, NBCUniversal announced its intent to acquire competing studio DreamWorks Animation for $3.8 billion. Meledandri will oversee both studios following the completion of the merger.
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.
The studio's first film, 3D CGI feature, Despicable Me, starring Steve Carell was released on July 9, 2010, and was a smash hit, earning $56 million on its opening weekend, and going on to earn $251 million domestically and $543 million worldwide. Illumination's second film was the live action/CGI hybrid Hop (2011), starring Russell Brand and James Marsden. The talking-animal flick opened to a much bigger than expected $37 million opening, and ended up with $108 million domestically and $183 million worldwide. In 2012, an adaptation of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, debuted on March 2 earning $70 million on its opening weekend, and eventually found its way to $214 million stateside and $348 million worldwide. The studio's first sequel, Despicable Me 2, opened in the United States on July 3, 2013, earning worldwide over $964 million, becoming the second highest-grossing 2013 animated film and breaking a record as the most profitable Universal Studios film in its 100-year history. The spin-off to Despicable Me, titled Minions, was released on July 10, 2015. It has grossed over $1 billion worldwide. It will be followed by two original animated stories.
The Secret Life of Pets was released on July 8, 2016. Directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney, it features Louis C.K. as a smart terrier rescue Max, Eric Stonestreet as a mongrel Duke, and Kevin Hart as a bunny Snowball. Taking place in a Manhattan apartment building, Max's life as a favourite pet is turned upside down, when his owner brings home a sloppy mongrel Duke. They have to put their quarrels behind, when they find out that an adorable white bunny Snowball is building an army of abandoned pets determined to take revenge on all happy-owned pets and their owners. Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Lake Bell, Ellie Kemper and Albert Brooks also joins the cast. Kemper as Max and Duke's owner, Moynihan as a small but tough pug named Mel who loves to flirt, Bell as a sarcastic cat Chloe and Brooks as a pet Tiberius. The second film, Sing, a comedy about "courage, competition and carrying a tune," written and directed by Garth Jennings, will be released on December 21, 2016. Despicable Me 3 is scheduled to be released on June 30, 2017, and Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! on November 9, 2018, directed by Pete Candeland and Yarrow Cheney from an adaptation by Michael LeSieur.
Other films in development include the animated feature adaptation of Ricky Gervais' Flanimals books, a CGI adaptation of the Uglydoll toy franchise, which creators David Horvath and Sun-Min-Kim will executive produce.
In May 2011, Illumination announced that it would be working with Universal Studios to create, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, a 3-D ride at Universal Studios in Orlando and Hollywood. The ride officially opened on July 2, 2012, in Orlando and in Hollywood on April 12, 2014.