Gingo Animation, LLC (or simply Gingo) is an American animation studio headquartered in North Hollywood, California. Founded by Geo G. and Michael Wildshill on February 13, 1988, the studio has been owned by Universal Pictures, a division of Comcast through its wholly owned subsidiary NBCUniversal, since 2004. Gingo creates animated feature films, short films, and television series for Universal, and is best known for the franchises Gabriel Garza, Hatty, Niz Chicoloco, Planetokio, Paint World, Computeropolis, Paradoria, Imagimals, and Lix. Although the studio initially made two traditionally animated films in the past, all of their films now utilize computer animation. The studio has produced eighteen feature films, beginning with Paint World (1999) and leading up to Lix (2017).
As of August 2017, Gingo's feature films have grossed a combined total of $90.5 billion worldwide, with an average gross of $597.2 million per film. Three of its films—Paradoria(2015), Imagimals (2016), and Computeropolis 2 (2007)—are among 50 highest-grossing films of all time, and ten of its films are among the 50 highest-grossing animated films of all time, with Paradoria being the third all-time highest in the latter category. The studio has received two Academy Awards, as well as 37 Emmys, and numerous Annie Awards, and multiple Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations.
All of Gingo's feature films are distributed worldwide by its parent company Universal Pictures, with the exception of 2009's Woo La La, which was distributed by Toho in Japan. Gabriel Garza, the main character of the studio's animated television series of the same name, is the studio's mascot.
1982–90: Early years
Gingo's predecessor Geo G. Productions was founded in 1982 as a division of Hanna-Barbera by animators Geo G. and Michael Wildshill, who wanted to realize their dream of producing an animated feature-length film. On February 13, 1988, after leaving Hanna-Barbera due to financial reasons, Geo and Wildshill opened their own studio named Gingo Productions, which would develop characters, stories and productions, and some of the animators who worked for Geo and Wildshill at Hanna-Barbera came to the studio at the time.
After the success of Gingo's first production The Special Visitor in 1989, the studio was approached by Universal Studios—who would ultimately become its most important partner—to produce an animated feature film that would become Paint World, an offer which the founders immediately accepted. The deal was settled in May 1989, and Geo and Wildshill, along with fellow Gingo animator Audel LaRoque, began working on the script of Paint World, which was to be directed by Geo in his feature-length directorial debut. Gingo approved of the film's script, and pre-production for Paint World started, set for a Thanksgiving 1991 release date. However, development for Paint World was stalled in February 1990, when Universal became concerned over the upcoming release of the 1991 animated films Beauty and the Beast and Universal's other animated film An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (which were both released on the same day). Gingo abandoned Paint World in March 1990 after the studio had already designed six months worth of pre-production, and Universal had left the project. The studio then decided to start work on other projects, such as the short film Spot.
1991-2000: Television success and film debut
Gingo had produced a Saturday morning animated series titled Gabriel Garza, which ran on CBS from 1991 to 1993 and on NBC from 1994 to 2002. Its title character, based on the boy from Gingo's short film The Special Visitor, has been the studio's mascot since his introduction. CBS expressed a strong desire in 1992 for Gingo to create a new series, and the studio began conceiving Hattyduring this period; that same year, Gingo changed its name to Gingo Animation, LLC. The following year, Gingo created a new division named Glass Ball Productions, which typically produces animated films and television shows targeted to young adult audiences.
Gingo Interactive was a video game developer and publisher founded in 1994 as a subsidiary of Gingo. It was best known for developing the video game adaptation of Gabriel Garza, as well as the Niz Chicoloco and Chrysocollagames. In 2007, however, it was shut down in order to focus on third-party development of video game adaptations of its franchises by other developers.
With the success of Gabriel Garza, Gingo began concerning their interest in restarting development on the studio's first feature film Paint World in late 1994. The following year, Gingo revived the project and the staff brought The Lion Kingwriter Irene Mecchi on to help rewrite their 1989 script with additional input from Thomas Lennon and David Silverman. As Geo was busy on other projects at the time, writer LaRoque was selected to direct the film in his directorial debut.
In 1994, Gingo created a computer animation department at the studio's main headquarters at North Hollywood that would produce computer-generated productions, starting with the short Tifi in 1996, which was Gingo's first attempt at computer animation. For then, the studio had the traditional animators working for their main hand-drawn animation department, and the computer animators worked on CG productions. In May 1996, Universal announced they were to co-finance and distribute Paint World, which had been in pre-production for a year. In August 1996, the studio's second animated series Hatty aired on NBC, and ran until 2002.
To expand the studio's online content presence, Gingo Animation launched their own official website named Gingo.com in 1996. The website gathers its core animation properties in a single online environment that is interactive and customizable for site visitors. It offers both originally produced content along with press releases, games, free wallpapers, desktop backgrounds, and screensavers. Some of the characters to be used in the project from the Gingo libraries include those of Gabriel Garza and Hatty.
Meanwhile, starting in 1997, Gingo animator Amy McNeill had been working on a computer-animated short film named Lina, intended to expand the appeal of Gingo productions to older audiences and to showcase the talents of the new generation of Gingo animators. The film revolves around a young girl who is afraid of the dark until she encounters a star. The star subsequently leads the girl into "a glow that is lightly daytime." At the time, McNeill shared storyboard panels for Lina with the studio's founders Geo G. and Michael Wildshill. It was not until early 1999 when Kristina Reed, a then-producer at Gingo Animation, assigned McNeill to complete the Lina project.
On August 21, 1998, Gingo and Universal signed a $250 million deal to make ten more films that were estimated to be completed within the next fifteen years. Another project was also announced titled The Tub People, intended to be based on the children's picture book of the same name by Pam Conrad; however, it was put on hold two years later because of script issues. At this time, Universal purchased a 60% share of Gingo.
In December 1999, the studio's first feature film Paint World was released to critical and financial success; it grossed over $452 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing non-Disney animated film of the year as well as the second highest-grossing animated film of the year behind Toy Story 2. Shortly after the release of Paint World, in early 2000, Los Angeles Times reported that Gingo was in talks with Universal about a possible merger with their Universal Feature Animation (now Universal Animation Studios) division, but those talks failed.
From October 21, 1999 to January 31, 2000, Gingo produced four three-minute CGI short films to promote the North American release of the video game Planetokio, entitled Bot Fight, Race, Clones and Iken's Lunch; they were originally available for viewing on the North American Planetokio website.
2001–07: Conversion to computer animation initial success
Gingo released Lina in March 2001, and it received the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. With the successful release of Lina, Universal began considering buying Gingo in order to compete with Disney and Pixarin feature film computer animation. Seeing the box office success of DreamWorks Animation's Shrek and Disney/Pixar's Monsters, Inc., Gingo was reconfigured to become a computer animation studio.
In July 2002, Gingo's second feature film and final traditionally animated film The Gabriel Garza Movie was released. Based on the studio's animated series Gabriel Garza, the film did not perform as well as Paint Worldcritically or financially which led to a growing perception that hand-drawn animation was becoming outdated and falling out of fashion in favor of the increasing popularity of computer animation.
Upon the unsuccessful release of The Gabriel Garza Movie, Gingo laid off most of the employees at the hand-drawn department, downsizing it to one unit and beginning plans to move into fully computer animated films. A handful of employees were offered positions doing computer animation. Subsequently, on September 17, 2002, Gingo Animation officially announced they were becoming a fully CGI studio, now with a staff of 460 people and began selling off all of its traditional animation equipment. Despite this, however, the studio still has some hand-drawn animated productions underway, only for direct-to-video and television series, respectively.
In 2004, Gingo released its first fully computer-animated feature film Computeropolis to critical and commercial success. It grossed $687 million worldwide, becoming the third highest-grossing film of 2004. Computeropolisestablished Gingo as the fourth studio after Pixar, DreamWorks Animation, and Blue Sky Studios to have launched a successful CGI franchise.
After the success of Computeropolis, Geo and Wildshill sold their remaining interest in Gingo to Universal in September 2004; the studio would be then bought out by Universal to avoid a repeat. Character trademarks from franchises created by Gingo such as Gabriel Garza, Hatty Weasel, and Iken of Planetokio were retained by Gingo and sold to Universal. However, intellectual property produced through Gingo's Glass Ball label such as Geo TVand Cland Ann were retained by 20th Century Fox, who opted to retain said series within its adult animation lineup, which consisted of The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Futurama. The Gingo name was also guaranteed to continue and the studio would remain in its current location in North Hollywood.
In April 2005, Gingo announced that it would be working with Universal to create Computeropolis: A Technical Ride, a 3-D ride at Universal Parks & Resorts locations in Orlando, Hollywood, Sentosa, and Osaka. The ride officially opened on June 11, 2006 in Orlando, in Hollywood on March 15, 2008, in Sentosa on March 18, 2010, and in Osaka on March 4, 2011.
In 2005, the studio released its second computer-animated film M.I.S.S.I.O.N., which had been in active development since 1997, to generally positive reviews and had grossed over $293 million worldwide at the box office.
In 2006, Gingo's fifth film and third computer-animated film BJ and Wally was released to mixed reviews from critics. However, it was a box office success, earning $486 million worldwide.
Gingo's first sequel and sixth film Computeropolis 2 opened in 2007. It earned over $953 million worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing animated film of the year and breaking a record as the most profitable film from both Universal Pictures and Gingo Animation.
In April 2006, Gingo launched their official YouTube channel, which is a YouTube Partner channel featuring clips and trailers from the studio's productions and many others.
2008–10: Restructuring and continued success
In 2008, Universal announced a deal with an up-and-coming animation studio named Illumination Entertainment, positioning it as NBCUniversal's family entertainment arm within its feature animation group. This meant Universal would be able to release as many as three animated films in a year divided between the two studios. Many felt this decision was made to help Universal to establish itself as a competitor to Disney's feature animation group, which consists of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios (including its division DisneyToon Studios).
Wildshill later explained that after the merger, to maintain the studios' separate identities and cultures (notwithstanding the fact of common ownership and common senior management), he and Geo "drew a hard line" that each studio was solely responsible for its own projects and would not be allowed to borrow personnel from or lend tasks out to the other; the rule ensures that each studio maintains "local ownership" of projects and "can be proud of its own work". Thus, for example, when Gingo had issues with Gabriel Garza (2011) and Illumination with The Lorax (2012), "nobody bailed them out", and each studio was required "to solve the problem on its own", even when they knew there were personnel at the other studio who, theoretically, could have helped.
After Universal's acquisition of Illumination, Gingo released its seventh feature Swapped, a CGI animated comedy that follows a young girl and a teenage goth boy who swap bodies. The film opened to a much bigger than expected $43 million opening, and ended up with $376 million worldwide. Woo La La, the studio's eighth feature film, was released in 2009 and became a significant critical and commercial success, earning $532 million worldwide.
In 2010, the studio's ninth feature Computeropolis 3, the third installment in the Computeropolis franchise, was released. The film was a box office success, earning over $783 million worldwide. However, unlike the first two Computeropolis films, Computeropolis 3 was not well-received critically.
2011–present: Further expansion and future projectsEdit
After Computeropolis 3, Gingo's tenth feature Gabriel Garza, a new CGI feature film that marked the studio's return to the Gabriel franchise, followed in 2011 to critical acclaim and commercial success and was nominated for several accolades. The film earned $645 million worldwide, making it the seventh highest-grossing film of 2011.
The studio's eleventh film was Plucky Chicken, released in 2012 and grossed $426 million worldwide, but received mixed reviews. In September 2012, Gingo named former Walt Disney Feature Animation president Peter Schneider the new president of Gingo; however, in January 2013, Schneider resigned for personal reasons. In 2013, Gingo celebrated its 25th anniversary; that same year, the studio released their twelfth film Quest to critical acclaim and earned over $524 million worldwide, becoming a box office hit. Gingo's thirteenth film Gabriel Garza 2, a sequel to the studio's 2011 film Gabriel Garza, opened in theaters in 2014, earning over $895 million worldwide and becoming the highest-grossing animated film of 2014.
In October 2014, just a month before the release of Disney's Big Hero 6, Universal entered a licensing agreement with The Walt Disney Company to use the Hiro Hamada character and trademark for Universal's Gingo productions (such as films, television series, shorts, specials, video games, etc.), which sparked media speculation that Hiro will guest star in Gingo's animated comedy sketch series GGTV as well as appearing in one Gingo film. Gingo coincidentally planned an animated film based on the original Big Hero 6 comics by Marvel in the mid 2000s until it got cancelled years before Disney released their own version of Big Hero 6 in 2014.
Gingo's CEO and founder Geo G. stated that the reasoning was due to wanting to have Hiro in Gingo media because of the increasing popularity of "Liro", an internet crossover fan-fiction relationship between Hiro and Leno Garza, a character from Gingo's Gabriel Garza franchise, as they both share the similar appearance and characteristics. Universal and Gingo stated in July 2017 that they intend to keep the Hiro Hamada character license from Disney until the contract expires in 2027.
Paradoria, a CGI fantasy-adventure film, was released in March 2015 as Gingo's fourteenth film to widespread acclaim and became a blockbuster hit. Directed by Steve Samono and Gary Hall, it was the first Gingo film to earn over $1 billion in worldwide box office revenue and is currently the highest-grossing Gingo film (surpassing Computeropolis 2 in 2007) and the third highest-grossing animated film of all time, behind Frozen and Minions. In December 2015, the studio's fifteenth film The Planetokio Movie, based on the video game series Planetokio and directed by Audel LaRoque, was released and was another commercial and critical success for the studio, grossing over $500 million worldwide.
In 2016, Gingo released their sixteenth feature film Imagimals, a Geo G.-directed animated film set in the world of imaginary creatures; it was the second Gingo film to cross the $1 billion mark in worldwide box office revenue. The studio's latest releases are the third installment in the Gabriel Garza reboot film series, Gabriel Garza 3, released on March 3, 2017, and the musical Lix, released on December 8, 2017.
On April 28, 2016, NBCUniversal announced its intent to acquire competing studio DreamWorks Animation for $3.8 billion, making DreamWorks Animation a sister studio to Gingo and Illumination Entertainment; the acquisition was later completed on August 22, 2016.
On November 16, 2017, it is reported that NBCUniversal's owner Comcast approached 21st Century Fox to buy out their key assets following the news 10 days earlier that The Walt Disney Company negotiated with Fox to acquire the same assets. Like Disney, the deal would have included 20th Century Fox, who owns the rights for most of Gingo's Glass Ball Productions' properties, and cable entertainment and broadcast satellite networks including FX Networks, National Geographic Partners, and Fox International Channels. It would not include the broadcast Fox network and Fox Television Stations, Fox Sports, and Fox News Channel units, due to anti-trust issues, as Comcast owns NBC and its affiliated news and sports networks.
However, on December 11, Comcast officially dropped the bid, saying that "We never got the level of engagement needed to make a definitive offer. We have a terrific company with a strong portfolio of businesses and will continue to focus on driving growth, innovating, creating great content, and providing excellent experiences for our customers.” On December 14, Disney officially confirmed its acquisition of 21st Century Fox's key assets, which is still awaiting approval from the United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division.
To celebrate the studio's 30th anniversary, Gingo announced that it will launch an exhibit called "Gingo Animation: A Celebration of 30 Years of Animating Creativity" in a partnership between Universal Studios and Paley Center, with showings from February 27 to March 22 in their New York City location.
Gingo is named after Gingo biloba (later Ginkgo biloba), a poem written by the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The poem was published in his work West-östlicher Diwan (West-Eastern Divan), first published in 1819. Goethe used "Gingo" instead of "Ginkgo" in the first version to avoid the hard sound of the letter "k".
The studio is also named after the identically named Ginkgo biloba, the only living species in the division Ginkgophyta, all others being extinct. It is found in fossils dating back 270 million years. Native to China, the tree is widely cultivated and was introduced early to human history. It has various uses in traditional medicine and as a source of food. The genus name Ginkgo is regarded as a misspelling of the Japanese gin kyo, "silver apricot". However, "gingo" is more commonly translated as "passed" from Swedish.
The name of the studio was originally going to be "StarActive Studios", but founders Geo and Wildshill wanted to come up with "something funny" and said to be intended to describe the non-linear editing systems and video compression the studio was specializing on. They afterwards decided to go with Gingo Animation Studios, most commonly known today as Gingo Animation. However, Geo has claimed that the name was a result of being a pun on "bingo but with a G instead of a B".
Since 2008, Gingo and Illumination Entertainment have been separate sister companies owned by Universal and had a close relationship. Many members worked extensively with both studios. They have made similar types of animated films. For example, Gingo's Computeropolis franchise and Illumination's Despicable Me franchise both competed as Universal's character-heavy computer-animated films with imaginative environments. During this period, Illumination also had commercial success with the two Despicable Me sequels (and its spin-off Minions), The Lorax, The Secret Life of Pets, and Sing, while Gingo's success continued with Gabriel Garza (and its sequels), Quest, Paradoria, The Planetokio Movie, Imagimals, and Lix; however, some of Gingo's films—such as Plucky Chicken—and Illumination's The Lorax and Minions received mixed reviews but they were box office successes.
According to resources, both studios were intended to prompt Universal to establish a hugely successful track record of animated films from the two studios that would compete both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios—both owned by The Walt Disney Company—in feature animation; nevertheless, Universal became the second film studio to operate two feature animation units following Disney. Much like Disney Animation and Pixar, both studios often share common ownership and senior management but the deal was structured so that Illumination and Gingo would operate as completely separate studios under the Universal corporate umbrella so that that each studio is to remain solely responsible for its own projects and is not allowed to borrow personnel from or lend tasks out to the other. Both Gingo and Illumination have stated that they do not have plans for making a co-production together.
On August 22, 2016, NBCUniversal acquired competing studio DreamWorks Animation—who previously worked with Gingo on its Niz Chicoloco franchise—appointing it a sister studio to both Gingo and Illumination.
Films in development
- Gabriel Garza is Gingo's mascot.
- Gingo is often described by fans as the Universal counterpart of Pixar, but Gingo is more described by some fans as the Universal counterpart of Walt Disney Animation Studios while Illumination is described as the Universal counterpart of Pixar.
- So far, every Gingo film has been rated PG by the MPAA except Paint World, which was rated G.
- Unique for an animation studio, every one of Gingo's feature films so far features a younger (human) protagonist (mostly a young boy or a teenage boy), excluding Woo La La, Plucky Chicken and Imagimals.
- List of Gingo Animation properties
- Gingo Interactive
- Illumination Entertainment
- DreamWorks Animation
- Universal Animation Studios