Illumination Entertainment is an American animation film production company, founded by Chris Meledandri in 2007. It is owned by Meledandri and Universal Studios, a division of NBCUniversal, with Universal fully financing and owning all the films. The company is best known for being the creators of the Despicable Me franchise, its spin-off/prequel Minions and the films The Secret Life of Pets and Sing. The Minions, characters from the Despicable Me films, are the studio's official mascots. Its films are co-produced and/or distributed by Universal Pictures.
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.