Anne Murray buys Animation House

Balmur Entertainment, a company founded by Canadian songbird Anne Murray, has expanded from music into animated family entertainment with the purchase of l.a.-based Evening Sky Entertainment and Toronto commercial animation studio The Animation House.

In a multimillion-dollar deal, Balmur has acquired 100% of Evening Sky, a long-form animation development and production company headed by Canadian expatriates David Corbett and Mary Corbett, and The Animation House, founded by Bob Fortier.

Under the purchase deal, Evening Sky and Animation House have folded into one company under the Evening Sky banner, with Animation House acting as the commercial production arm.

At the same time, Balmur has undertaken a refinancing initiative which puts Murray, previously sole owner, in partnership with an investor group which includes Fred Sherratt, executive vp and coo of CHUM Ltd., Charlie Allen, former head of cuc, which founded ytv, and C.I. Covington Fund of Toronto.

Balmur is headed by president Tony Baylis. Founded in 1972, the company’s primary business is music publishing and management. It is also the production entity behind Murray’s tv music specials. The shop has about 50 permanent staff and offices in Toronto, Nashville, and with the acquisition deal, will consolidate new satellite offices into the current Evening Sky and Animation House locations.

David Corbett will act as president and ceo of Evening Sky, Mary Corbett as executive vp development and Fortier assumes the position of executive vp creative, with all three becoming stockholders in Balmur.

Under the deal, Balmur Music and Television, Evening Sky and Animation House will be integrated to create a new production business with an emphasis on the synergies between tv content and music.

Through Evening Sky, Balmur is aiming at becoming a player in family entertainment with an eye to creating and acquiring coproduction projects, including a number already in development through Evening Sky.

‘We believe there are wonderful audio possibilities in family programming,’ says Baylis. ‘We want to create music for tv, and some of the tv projects we create will also open up musical opportunities.’

Baylis points to the company’s production of the tv special An Intimate Evening with Anne Murray, licensed to cbc, pbs, Fox Lorber and others, which in turn led the company to produce a live soundtrack based on recordings from the show.

‘If you look at kids’ animation, it’s the same model but a different subject matter,’ says Baylis. ‘An animated tv series with music as a strong creative component will allow us to create audio products and opportunities.’

The company is currently finalizing a deal with a Canadian broadcaster for an animated series based on a past Murray musical property. Balmur brought in The Animation House previously on this project, with Fortier assuming a creative role early in the development process, and Evening Sky involved on the production side. This project was the genesis of the ultimate relationship between the companies.

Evening Sky has a number of other projects in development, including animated series Fritz & Miguel, a Christmas special called The Adventures of Timothy Tweedle and a preschool series called Trucktown, for which the company seeking coproduction financing with European partners.

For Fortier, the deal represents an opportunity to move into the long-form production realm from the commercial business in which he has thrived for 20 years.

Animation House director Terry Godfrey will continue as the principal animation director at the Toronto studio, and Fortier says the shop is looking toward creative and technical expansion that includes moving further into 3D computer animation and attracting animation directors from the u.s. and Europe.

While The Animation House space will now house the entire Evening Sky production studios, Fortier says with the growth of the company, there is a possibility the Evening Sky component may move to a larger facility.