Blue Sky Studios Reps Stress Importance of Color Values and Advise Prospective Interns to Make Them Laugh


Photo by Edgar Mojica.

Flying high on the success of The Peanuts Movie, representatives from Blue Sky Studios came to Academy of Art University on Feb. 17 to share information on internship opportunities and what it’s like to work at their company. But what students found most interesting was a detailed presentation by Blue Sky color key artist Mike Lee on color and light. 

“I’ve been experimenting with color on my personal projects, trying to get good at it, so I took some notes,” said Academy senior Angela Harris, a 3-D modeling major. “My favorite part was when he was stressing value, because that’s what I believe I was missing. I’m gonna go back and study value more.”

Showcasing a digital painting he did for Rio 2 (2014), featuring the movie’s two main characters Blu and Jewel, Lee talked about how he uses color and light to set the mood of a scene. Projected over the stage at the Morgan Auditorium, the slides revealed how a subtle variation between soft orange and deeper red gave what could have looked like a romantic scene a darker edge—after all, the birds were arguing, Lee explained. But what students found so interesting, and what Lee says is the most crucial part of the process, is how he focuses not just on color, but on color values—nudging the tools within Photoshop to adjust brightness, contrast, and saturation to achieve a realistic rendering.  

“If your values aren’t working, most likely your painting’s not going to work either,” he said. “If there’s anything you guys are gonna take from this presentation, I hope it’s the importance of values in painting.”


(L–R) George Ambartsoumian, Mindy Beraradini, Mike Lee and Leonardo Quert. Photo by Edgar Mojica.

Sahar Shams, a visual development graduate student specializing in character design found that the presentation wasn’t directly related to her focus, but she said it was helpful to hear about how Lee works, as did sophomore animation major Fernando Penafiel. “It was a very different kind of presentation. Usually the presentations deal mostly with the animation department, but this one was more about color and lighting which was really cool, and it fits with what I’m trying to do right now. Even though I’m an animator, I still like learning about lighting and color, so I thought it was really great.”

Also on hand was Mindy Berardini, a recruiting and talent development coordinator. She discussed the perks of working at Blue Sky—a kickball tournament, a talent show, two Halloween parties!—before talking about the studio’s summer internship program. Open to students graduating between winter 2015 and spring 2017, Blue Sky’s internships fall into two categories: technical and artistic/production. In the artistic/production category, students can apply for a position in one of 10 different departments ranging from animation to effects, character simulation to story. 

Berardini explained that each intern is paired with a mentor in his or her department. They sit near them throughout the 10-week period, learning the ropes of working at the studio. She said interns are usually assigned a specific character from one of Blue Sky’s 10 movies, and working with the animation lead who developed that character, they can come up with different ideas for scenes. “Our last interns did a shot with Blu and they ended up with several different action shots for their reels,” she said.

At the end of the presentation, several students asked what they should include in their portfolios when applying for an internship. Berardini said animation interns should include three to four strong action shots and two dialogue pieces. Visual development students should showcase strong character color work, environmental design, or better yet, both. And finally, she offered advice for students interested in effects, encouraging them to submit reels showing destruction scenes with a series of events like a building bursting into flames. Whether applying for an internship in the animation department or the story department, Berardini made it clear that if you can make the supervisors laugh, you’re in a good spot. “They don’t like watching reel after reel of people crying,” she said “We make funny movies, and movies for kids. We’re not breaking hearts.”

The deadline to apply for a 2016 summer internship at Blue Sky Studios is March 18. Go to to apply.