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THE AMPAS PRESENT: THE ANIMATED FEATURE SYMPOSIUM

82nd Academy Awards, Animated Feature Symposium

From L to R:  Jon Musker, Henry Selick, Pete Docter, Tom Sito, Tom Moore, and Ron Clements; ©A.M.P.A.S.

On March 4, three days before the 82nd Academy Awards of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) ceremony, the AMPAS held an event at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in West Hollywood to honor the five animated feature films competing for the category of Best Animated Feature this weekend.

Bill Kroyer, Academy Award nominated animator and Executive Board member of the Animation Branch of the AMPAS, opened the event. Kroyer noted that 2010 is the first time five animated features have been nominated for the Oscar, with twenty feature films submitted. Academy members were required to see all twenty movies before choosing the final five.  Kroyer also joked that a 21st movie met the qualifications, but a certain director balked, stating that his movie is “not” an animated film, referring to James Cameron‘s Avatar, nominated for nine Academy Awards. Next, Kroyer introduced Tom Sito, the evening’s host and MC, an animator who has worked on everything from 1980’s television classics such as He-Man to Disney feature films such as The Lion King.  Sito paid tribute to veteran voice actress June Foray, who was in the audience.  Foray is best known for her work as Rocky the Flying Squirrel from Rocky And Bullwinkle.

Audience members then donned the 3D glasses that were handed out upon entrance to the auditorium for Coraline, the evening’s first animated feature retrospective.  The screening was followed by a conversation with director Henry Selick, who discussed the genesis of the film and early collaboration with the writer of the original novella, Neil Gaiman.  Selick also discussed the challenge of shooting the movie in 3D and reflected about the time he spent in the live action realm with films such as Monkeybone.  Selick admitted to being in a downward spiral directing live action film and that he feels much more at home with animation, specifically the stop-motion variety for which he has become known.  Selick discussed the production process, where animators draw out all of the characters’ facial expressions on paper to turn them into puppets, and then showed another clip of Coraline.

Next, Sito introduced two clips for another stop-motion feature nominated for the Oscar: The Fantastic Mr. Fox.  Unfortunately, the film’s director, Wes Anderson, was in London so he could not attend the event. 

The Princess and the Frog, the movie that marked Disney’s return to traditional, hand-drawn animation, followed. The clips included the musical numbers for “Almost There” and the already legendary “Friends On The Other Side,” which I quite frankly consider the best animated musical number of the decade.  This preceded the entrance of the movie’s co-directors, Ron Clements and John Musker.  Clements and Musker discussed the development of the movie as a musical and their work with composer, Randy Newman, before the script was finished.  Clements and Musker also talked about their research into the movie’s setting of New Orleans and the process of making a real-life and richly historical American city look authentic for an animated film.  Sito then introduced another clip from the film. 

Next was a retrospective of the traditionally animated film, The Secret of Kells, dubbed the “dark horse” nominee by Sito.  Two clips were shown of this unique film before Sito introduced the movie’s director, Irishman Tom Moore.  Moore talked about gaining inspiration for the visual look and style for the movie from more obscure animated fare such as The Thief And The Cobbler.   Moore discussed the challenges of working with the movie’s budget as well as the animation production which was done all across Europe and Brazil.  Moore also mentioned that the producers of the movie were enormously helpful with the film and did not pressure him because of the movie’s content. 

Last but not least was Up — the only movie to be nominated for both Best Animated Feature and Best Picture.  The clips for Up were shown in 3D and included the poignant and heartwarming montage sequence depicting Carl and Ellie falling in love, getting married, and growing old together.  Director Pete Docter then took the stage to speak with Sito about the movie and how 3D came along later into the movie’s production.  Up is notable for being an animated film with an elderly protagonist, allowing for a main character who could be grouchy and say what’s on his mind.  Often protagonists in animated films tend to be young and bland.  Docter also discussed using 3D to film certain sequences flatter to fit the mood of the story, as well as later expanding and adding more depth to change the mood for other sequences. 

Following another clip for Up, all the directors took the stage for a question and answer session with Sito.  The directors shared experiences about what they like to do when their movies open, and Sito asked if they like to hide for three days.  Ron and John talked about a private screening held in Chicago for friends and family to get an automatic good reception.  Docter went around town, watched the movie and looked at the audiences’ reactions to see whether the filmmakers’ work was successful.  Next, Sito soon opened up the panel for questions from the audience which included some inspiring anecdotes.  Ron and John advised aspiring animators to use sources such as YouTube as a way to show their animation and work.  I believe Henry Selick noted that in order to be an animation director you must know how to draw and also enjoy it.

82nd Academy Awards, Animated Feature Symposium

82nd Academy Award, Animated Feature Symposium,  ©A.M.P.A.S.

Some would argue that animated films are incapable of attaining the same level of quality as a live-action Best Picture nominee. Kroyer stated that animated films are more often than not the best reviewed and highest grossing movies of all time. However, animated movies often are not recognized for Oscar categories outside of a scant few.  Up marks the first time an animated movie has garnered a nomination for Best Picture since 1991’s The Beauty And The Beast.  That said, the Animated Feature Symposium was a delightful celebration and retrospective of animated films in multiple forms. It was refreshing to see the honored films presented in the style of stop-motion animation, computer generated animation, and traditional hand drawn animation — a medium not long ago referred to as theatrically irrelevant and dead. On the evening of March 4, there were no winners and losers among animated movies, but simply quality stories of all shapes and sizes brought to life through different forms of animation.

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