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Tribeca Film Festival is Blushing Over John Lasseter’s Animated Space Adventure Short

Skydance Media, responsible for feature-length films such as Jack Reacher, World War Z, Terminator Genisys, True Grit, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Star Trek Beyond, and dozens more, has revealed the first look at Blush, a short film created in partnership with Apple TV+. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film festival this past June 13th as part of its showcase of animated shorts curated by Whoopi Goldberg. With industry legend John Lasseter leading animation for Skydance, the new slate of both films and TV promises to be both visually stunning and emotionally moving.  

On its Surface, Blush is a sweetly brief love story set in space. However, the message goes far deeper than that. At the core of this story, it’s about building a new life and discovering faith in the universe’s ability to heal and save. This enchanting tale introduces an astronaut who also happens to be a horticulturalist. An impressive young man, by anyone’s standards. But unfortunately for him, his spaceship crash lands on a desolate planet made of hard, gray rock. The horticulturalist in him attempts to make the best of the situation by using the plant he brought with him as a small source of oxygen, but it perishes in the harsh environment. His fate seems to be sealed until a second ship comes hurtling onto the planet. The ship carries a female alien who saves our stranded protagonist. The two fall in love, signaled to the viewers when she blushes. Writer and director John Mateo brings this extraterrestrial savior to life in stunning shades of pink, with out-of-this-world hair-like strips of shiny bubblegum reminiscent of Lasseter’s earlier work on Pixar classics such as Toy Story

The short is an efficient ten minutes and refuses to waste any time. Every moment takes the story forward or creates an opportunity to expand on character and theme. “Being a storyboard artist, clarity is really important,” writer and director Joe Mateo told Variety, “What I love about the story is the short story format. There is not a lot of space for unnecessary scenes, no shoe leather. What’s there is there to support the story, the message and moment and the sentiment.” 

Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Joe Mateo is best known for his work on Bolt and Big Hero 6. Mateo started at Disney animation as a clean-up artist and 2D animator for twenty-five years. Though Blush is 3D animation, Mateo’s 2D training is evident in his work. The imagery does not feel computer-generated but instead has the whimsical, pictographic feeling of 2D animation, as well as the honest intimacy that so much CGI fails to capture. The raw emotion in Blush can also be explained by the fact that the short was inspired by Mateo’s wife, Mary Ann, who lost an eight-year battle with breast cancer. “After I lost Mary Ann, I suddenly couldn’t breathe, it was a scary moment,” he told Variety, “I had to call a friend who is a doctor and ask him: ‘What is going on with me?’ He said: ‘Joe, you are having a panic attack. I realized that Mary Ann was my air. I was struggling to breathe because I lost my air.” From this frightening experience came the idea for an astronaut stranded on a dwarf planet, quickly losing oxygen. Writing Blush was a crucial part of Mateo’s healing journey. It just so happened a pandemic pushed all of society onto a similarly uneasy path. “We started production a couple of months before lockdown,” Mateo said in his interview with Variety, “We knew we wanted to make a short with a message of healing and hope, but I didn’t of course expect the pandemic to happen in the process of making it.” This story of hope and rebirth couldn’t have premiered at a better time. 

Because Mateo wanted the animation to be perfectly stylized, believable, and captivating, working with John Lasseter and Skydance animation was the obvious choice. Made in the US and Spain, Blush was produced by Heather Schmidt Feng Yanu, known for Toy Story and the Cars trilogy. In addition to John Lasseter, it was executive produced by David Ellison and Dana Goldberg. Blush marks the beginning of an expansive, multi-year deal between Skydance and Apple TV+. This deal between the two studios is part of a mission to deliver premium animated films and theatrical-quality animated television shows in more than 100 countries and regions on Apple TV+. All features involved in the deal will be produced by Skydance CEO David Ellison and Skydance President of Animation Holly Edwards. The two will also executive produce on all series. 

Joe Mateo has knocked the Blush animation out of this galaxy, with John Lasseter’s influences shimmering through here and there. Lasseter is known for his vibrant, computer-animated, elite-quality, emotionally evocative style can be recognized in the universally loved, box-office-breaking, award-winning movies Toy Story, Nightmare Before Christmas, Beauty and The Beast, Brave, A Bug’s Life, Frozen, Cars, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Lion King, Monsters Inc, Up, Moana, Zootopia, and Wall-E. In addition to heading up animation, John Lasseter is the executive producer of the new charming space short, Blush. In 2019, he joined Skydance Media for the next act in his world-famous career. 

You’d be hard-pressed to find a person who hasn’t seen Toy Story and fallen in love with its animation, but few know the story of the man behind the images. John Lasseter was encouraged from a young age by his mother to pursue drawing. She was an art teacher, which sparked his passion for cartoons and animation. His journey officially began in 1970, attending the Character Animation program at CalArts. His classmates included future animating superstars and directors including Brad Bird, Henry Selick, and Tim Burton. After graduating he was hired by Disney’s animation studio and worked on both The Fox and the Hound (1981) and Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983). 

Driven by his passion for computer graphics, he moved on to work for Lucas Films Ltd., the film company owned by director George Lucas. There, he was celebrated for his work as director on animated short The Adventures of André and Wally B. (1984). This was one of the first movies ever to use computer-generated characters. The computer graphics division of Lucas Films Ltd. was bought by Apple Computer Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs in 1986 and was turned into the company we know today as Pixar. Originally, Pixar focused on developing animation software, with Disney as its biggest client. They moved on to produce television commercials, and eventually, they worked with John Lasseter to create the short film Tin Toy. In 1988, Tin Toy won Lasseter an Academy Award for the best animated short film. Eight years later, in 1996, he won a second Academy Award (the Special Achievement Award) for his genius work on classics such as Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, and Toy Story

Today, John Lasseter is known as one of the foremost pioneers in the world of computer animation and CGI. In addition to being the head of Skydance Animation, his latest career move has been joining Skydance Studios in charge of overall strategy and creative direction. Most recently, as of June 2021, he’s receiving praise for leading the animation on Joe Mateo’s short film, Blush

Producing quality kid-and-family-friendly series and features is becoming increasingly important as viewers are switching from a cable-based lifestyle to one of the streaming services more and more. Consequentially, phenomenal children’s entertainment producers are in high demand. With long-time industry leaders like John Lasseter and so many other notable names, it’s easy to get excited about Skydance Animation’s newest project rollout. Following Blush, the two studios will premier more breathtaking and anticipated features in 2022, including Luck, directed by Peggy Holmes, and Spellbound, directed by Vicky Jenson. Skydance’s television debut is also right around the corner. Keep your eyes peeled for two seasons of The Search for WondLA, an adaptation from Tony DiTerlizzi’s book series by the same name, and other series that have yet to be announced. 

Originally founded in 2017, Skydance Animation is a division of David Ellison’s Skydance Media, which has now expanded to include Skydance Animation Madrid. “The world is going through an unprecedented and uncertain time,” Ellison said of the expansion, “Today’s acquisition marks the culmination of many months of work to build one studio across two continents, to create the highest-quality animation, led by best-in-class talent from around the world. The addition of Skydance Animation Madrid to our portfolio of businesses underlines my passion and commitment to bringing iconic animated stories and characters to life from some of the most talented artists and voices in the industry.”

In uncertain times, one thing is certain: Skydance Animation will continue to produce sky-high quality content with John Lasseter at the helm, and you can look forward to Blush joining Luck and Spellbound on Apple TV+ in the near future.