For me, personally, I have never been a fan of Oscar Night. The ceremony with its emphasis on wardrobe and hairstyles.
Who’s dating who. And long musical numbers performed by A-list singers
who often had nothing to do with the nominated film. I mean, Oscar night
is primarily focused on one aspect of filmmaking, namely the culture of
celebrity, which I find detracts from other areas of artistry and technical
achievement. So this is why I was excited when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced
that, starting this year, they would hold a craft symposium featuring the
directors of all three animated films nominated for an Academy Award.
Photo by Todd James Pierce
In truth, animation has enjoyed an unusual history inside
the academy. For the first 70 years of the Oscars, the Academy acknowledged
feature animation primarily through two award categories: special awards for
technical achievement and best song. In part, this problem was
perpetuated by the scarcity of feature animation.There were some years
in which no American studio released a feature-length animated film.
But in the 1990s, feature animation saw a renaissance.
In part, this was due to "Toy Story," which proved that audiences would
engage a story presented with computer graphics. And in part, this was
due to "The Lion King," which showed that there was serious money to be
made in animation. "The Lion King" hauled in just over $300 million
domestically and over $450 million internationally. All this from a movie
that cost less than $50 million to produce.
Elton John and Sir Tim Rice with the Academy Awards that they won for working on Disney's "The Lion King" Copyright AMPAS. All Rights Reserved
In 2001, the Academy established an award for Best Animated
Feature—an award that would only be given in years when studios released at
least 8 feature-length animated films. "Shrek" was the category’s
This past year there were 14 feature-length animated films
submitted for consideration, with three nominees: "Bolt," "Kung Fu Panda"
and "WALL-E." (If feature-length production expands to the point
where there are at least 16 animated features in a year, the list of nominees
will then expand to five.) For years, the Academy has hosted craft
symposiums for films nominated in other categories, such as Best Foreign
Language Film. But last night the Academy hosted the inaugural craft
symposium for films nominated for Best Animated Feature.
The Samuel Goldwyn Theater, complete with its very ownpromote-this-year's-Academy-Awards banner Photo by Todd James Pierce
The event was held in Beverly Hills, at the Samuel Goldwyn
Theater. Like most every animation panel I’ve ever attended, the honorees
were pointedly casual, with many dressed in jeans and t-shirts. John
Stevenson, co-director of "Kung Fu Panda," simply wore a nylon jacket over
a Hawaiian shirt. In fact the only person dressed in a suit was the
show’s host, animator and animation historian, Tom Sito.
With this, the symposium relaxed into a casual discussion,
Sito introduced clips and the directors dished stories about how each film was
Andrew Stanton with the Oscar he won for "Finding Nemo" Copyright AMPAS. All Rights Reserved
Andrew Stanton, director of "WALL-E," was by far the
most confident and served up the best stories. But then, he was an old
hat at this, having been previously nominated for three Academy Awards and
having won one. At times he dipped back in to tales of his early
days in animation, when he was first offered a job at Pixar. “I had never
been up to San Francisco,” he began.“There was not the Internet.
There was not cell phones. There was not access to what things looked like.
I thought Pixar in 1990 was what it is now. On a naive whim, because I
was trying to get out of LA to save my marriage, when John [Lasseter] offered
me the job, I said, ‘sure.’ I packed up the truck and left.When I
got there, it was one room with one phone, that if it rang it could be for any
of us. And three computers that twelve of us had to timeshare.”
John Stevenson and Mark Osborne, the team from "Kung Fu
Panda," explained the difficulty of placing Kung Fu into a CG film.
They wanted audiences to engage the beauty and achievement of the martial arts,
but to accomplish this, they discovered that they would need to downplay the
broad physical humor that appears in many DreamWorks Animation films. “We realized
pretty quickly that we couldn’t go for a very squashy-stretchy, Chuck Jones-animation style,” Stevenson explained.“That had actually worked very
well with 'Madagascar.' But if we did that, when characters weren’t
doing martial arts, you would’ve had no way of knowing that when they were
doing Kung Fu they were doing something extraordinary.”As production
progressed, and as the two directors reviewed completed footage, they made the
decision to redo many early scenes, to make the actions of Po (the panda) less
Byron Howard (L) and Chris Williams at "Bolt" 's world premiereCopyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved
Chris Williams and Byron Howard reviewed the technical
processes of character design for Bolt.“We used XGen,” Howard
said, “the program that grows hair and grass, to grow Bolt’s hair follicles.
Bolt has some phenomenal amount of hair on him.Something
like 200,000 hairs.[The figure] has control hairs that are meticulously
groomed by amazing artists in their own right.”
Andrew Stanton explained that Pixar hired the
cinematographer Roger Deakins, best known for his work with the Coen
brothers, as a consultant on "WALL-E." Deakins’ job was
to help the Pixar team incorporate techniques of live action cinematography
into a CG production in hopes of creating an animated film that had the feel of
an art house production. “I didn’t want this to look like any other CG movie,”
Stanton revealed. “We’re so intimate with this medium.We look at
it every day—every day for the last frigging twenty year ... This felt like it
was finally a story that would justify why I wanted things to go out of focus,
the way things normally do when you use a narrow lens. Why the darks
really go into darks. Why whites go over exposed. I just wanted all
of that.I wanted control of that.”
Copyright 2008 DreamWorks Animation / Pixar / Disney. All Rights Reserved
The evening closed with a Q&A. Afterward, the
directors and members of the production teams lingered in the theater talking
to one another. Unlike the Oscars awards show, this evening’s
presentation embraced an atmosphere of cooperation, with all of the
participants appearing far more interested in the development of the animation
industry as a whole than the advancement of any one film.
The Oscars will be broadcast this Sunday. I’m not sure
yet if I’ll watch it. Usually I’m annoyed by the program—especially the
red carpet festivities. But I am interested in learning the winner of the
Best Animated Feature category. Presently "WALL-E" has collected
most of the major awards for animated features, including the Los Angeles Film
Critics award for Best Picture and the New York Film Critics Circle award for
Best Animated Picture. It will be interesting to see if the Oscars follow
And just so you know, the Academy plans to make the animated
film symposium an annual event. Though many seats are reserved for
members of the animation industry, the event is open to the public.
Copyright 2009 ABC. All Rights Reserved
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