Syracuse University Magazine

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Chris Renaud '89

Fun at Work

Animated film director Chris Renaud has been intrigued by comic bad guys since childhood—long before supervillain and jelly manufacturer Felonius Gru, protagonist of the beloved Despicable Me movies, rallied his delightfully inept crew of Minions and unveiled his dastardly plan to steal the moon. Now a grownup who describes his job as “cool,” Renaud is co-director of the Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment films Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2, for which he received an Oscar nomination, and executive producer of Minions, the billion-dollar grossing prequel released in July. He finds it “hugely gratifying” that so many people have wholeheartedly embraced the films’ characters. “As a kid, I loved things like comic books and Star Wars movies and The Pink Panther films my dad took me to,” says Renaud, who earned a B.F.A. degree in illustration from the College of Visual and Performing Arts and now lives and works in Paris. “It’s fun for me to be able to work on films that people are having a positive response to, similar to how I felt about the stories and characters that influenced me when I was younger.”

The path of Renaud’s career, which he characterizes as “a little bit convoluted,” began in New York City, where he worked as a graphic designer in the sports entertainment industry before getting his “first big break” drawing and writing comic books with DC Comics. He then moved into the world of children’s television as production designer on the Disney Channel’s The Book of Pooh, followed by his work with Blue Sky Studios as a story artist on such films as Robots, Ice Age: The Meltdown, and Horton Hears a Who! He also wrote and co-directed the animated short No Time for Nuts, which received an Annie Award and a 2007 Oscar nomination.

Now at Illumination Entertainment, where upcoming projects include The Secret Life of Pets, Despicable Me 3, and a remake of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Renaud likens making an animated movie to trying to build an airplane while flying it. “A lot of my day is going from department to department, reviewing where we are at different stages of the process, and bouncing ideas around—what are the gags? How does the camera move?” says Renaud, who also lends his voice to Minion characters. “It’s a huge team, usually about 200 people or so on a film. So it’s a collaborative, iterative process. I’m lucky to work with a very talented team here, and good ideas come from all corners, which is great.”

Reflecting on his time at Syracuse, Renaud is grateful for the people he met and befriended as a student, as well as the exposure to disciplines and perspectives beyond the arts program in which he was enrolled. As an expression of that appreciation, he and his wife established the Chris and Lauren Renaud Fund for Illustration in the College of Visual and Performing Arts in 2012, supporting student travel expenses for the purpose of learning industry practices connected to their course of study.

He also offers up this piece of helpful advice to support young artists and other professionals as they enter their fields of choice. “You have to constantly be prepared to reinvent yourself and your skill set, while also maintaining your perspective, your voice,” he says. “What you have to say and how you say it is the one thing that makes you different. Stay true to that, because at the end of the day, that’s the only thing that makes you unique in a sea of very talented people.”    —Amy Speach