July 13, 2024

Illinois, particularly its bustling city of Chicago, is home to a vibrant and growing animation industry. From large, well-established studios to small, innovative boutiques, Illinois offers a rich landscape for animators and creatives. This article explores some of the key animation studios in Illinois, their contributions to the industry, and their unique approaches to animation.

The Animation Scene in Illinois

Illinois has a diverse and dynamic animation scene, benefiting from the state’s rich cultural history and educational institutions. The presence of top-tier art schools, such as the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia College Chicago, has helped foster a creative environment conducive to animation. These institutions provide a steady stream of talent and innovation, helping local studios thrive.

Leading Animation Studios in Illinois

1. Calabash Animation

Calabash Animation is one of the most renowned animation studios in Illinois. Established in 1985, Calabash has a long history of producing high-quality animation for commercials, television, and film.

Calabash’s strength lies in its ability to blend traditional hand-drawn animation techniques with modern digital tools. This hybrid approach allows them to maintain a classic feel while ensuring that their animations meet contemporary standards. Their dedication to storytelling and character development sets them apart in the competitive landscape of commercial animation.

2. Starburns Industries

Starburns Industries, co-founded by Dan Harmon, the creator of “Community” and “Rick and Morty,” is another significant player in the Illinois animation scene. While the company is headquartered in Burbank, California, its Chicago office plays a crucial role in its operations. Starburns is known for its innovative and often avant-garde approach to animation, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the medium.

The studio has been involved in producing critically acclaimed shows and films, such as “Anomalisa,” which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature. Starburns Industries’ commitment to unique storytelling and experimental techniques has made it a standout in the animation industry.

3. Daily Planet Productions

Founded in 1977, Daily Planet Productions has a long history in the Chicago animation scene. The studio specializes in creating animation and visual effects for commercials, corporate videos, and educational content. Over the years, Daily Planet has worked with a wide range of clients, from Fortune 500 companies to local businesses, showcasing their versatility and adaptability.

Daily Planet Productions prides itself on its collaborative approach, working closely with clients to bring their visions to life. The studio’s team of skilled animators, designers, and producers ensure that every project is executed with precision and creativity.

4. LooseKeys

LooseKeys is a Chicago-based animation studio that has gained recognition for its fun and engaging animated explainer videos. Founded by Brad Chmielewski and Keith Hamm, LooseKeys focuses on creating content that simplifies complex ideas through vibrant and accessible animation.

The studio’s work spans a variety of industries, including technology, healthcare, and finance. LooseKeys’ ability to distill intricate concepts into easily understandable visuals has made them a popular choice for businesses looking to communicate effectively with their audiences.

5. Run Kick Shout

Run Kick Shout is a creative studio located in Chicago, specializing in motion graphics and animation. Known for their bold and dynamic style, Run Kick Shout has collaborated with high-profile clients such as Nike, Google, and the Chicago Bulls. The studio’s work often features striking visuals and innovative techniques, making them a standout in the motion graphics industry.

The team at Run Kick Shout brings together diverse talents in design, animation, and storytelling. Their projects are characterized by a strong narrative drive and a keen eye for detail, ensuring that each animation is both visually stunning and emotionally resonant.

The Role of Educational Institutions

The animation industry in Illinois is greatly supported by the state’s educational institutions. Schools like the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and Columbia College Chicago offer comprehensive programs in animation, visual effects, and related fields. These programs provide students with the technical skills and creative vision needed to succeed in the industry.

SAIC, for example, offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Animation, where students can explore various animation techniques, including traditional hand-drawn animation, stop-motion, and 3D animation. Columbia College Chicago also offers a robust animation program with a focus on storytelling and industry-relevant skills.

These institutions not only train the next generation of animators but also serve as cultural hubs where industry professionals can connect, collaborate, and innovate.

Industry Events and Festivals

Illinois hosts several industry events and festivals that celebrate animation and provide networking opportunities for professionals. The Chicago International Film Festival, for instance, includes an Animation program that showcases works from around the world. This festival provides a platform for animators to present their work to a broader audience and gain recognition.

Another notable event is the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, which highlights animated films for younger audiences. This festival emphasizes the educational and entertainment value of animation, encouraging the creation of high-quality content for children.

Challenges and Opportunities

While the animation industry in Illinois is thriving, it also faces certain challenges. Competition from animation hubs like Los Angeles and New York can make it difficult for Illinois-based studios to attract high-profile projects. Additionally, the fast-paced evolution of animation technology requires studios to continuously update their skills and equipment.

However, these challenges also present opportunities. The relatively lower cost of living in Illinois compared to coastal cities can be an advantage for studios looking to manage production costs. Additionally, the state’s supportive creative community fosters collaboration and innovation, helping local studios stand out in a crowded market.

The increasing demand for diverse content across various media platforms also opens new avenues for Illinois-based studios. From streaming services to virtual reality, the expanding landscape of content consumption offers numerous opportunities for growth and experimentation.


Animation studios in Illinois are making significant contributions to the industry, blending traditional techniques with cutting-edge technology to create compelling content. From well-established studios like Calabash Animation and Daily Planet Productions to innovative newcomers like LooseKeys and Run Kick Shout, the animation scene in Illinois is diverse and dynamic.

While challenges exist, the state’s unique advantages and the dedication of its animation community ensure that Illinois remains a vital part of the animation landscape.

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