Friday, September 27, 2013


Oscars Revamp Animation Nomination Process
(By Scott Feinberg , Hollywood Reporter, 27 September 2013)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will soon announce changes to the way it picks its best animated feature and shorts nominees for the Oscars, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. The move will make it easier for more of its 6,000 or so members to participate in the decision-making process, and almost certainly lead to a marked increase in the number of people who actually determine the nominees.

Nominees in those categories historically have been chosen by only a relatively small number of Los Angeles-based volunteers. Half have been members of the Short Films and Animated Feature branch and half have been members of one the Academy's other branches, but all have had to be not only unaffiliated with any of the movies in contention, but also available to attend L.A. screenings of the eligible films over several Sundays starting in November. This group is known as the Animated Feature Film Award Screening Committee.
The new rule change will enable Academy members who are based outside of the L.A. area to serve on the Screening Committee, as well, by permitting them to weigh the eligible films by watching them on DVD or Blu-Ray screeners, as opposed to having to attend the official screenings.  This decision is consistent with other recent Academy efforts to find ways to include more members in more voting decisions. For instance, the Academy recently began providing screeners of all of the nominated documentary features, animated shorts, documentary shorts and live-action shorts to all members of the Academy, so that they can easily see and weigh in on the final outcome in those races. And it recently announced plans to send all of the nominated foreign language films to the entire membership, as well.
The entire Short Films and Feature Animation branch -- which is currently composed of roughly 400 members and chaired by Jon Bloom, who also serves as one of its reps on the Board of Governors, along with Disney-Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter and Bill Kroyer -- still does not get to determine its corresponding nominees, though, unlike most of the Academy's other branches. This is apparently because some fear that branch members might just vote in blocks on behalf of their respective studios' contender(s) -- as the entire Academy once did when actors, producers, directors, writers, execs and publicity people were under contract to specific studios -- which would give an unfair advantage to studios that are heavily represented (i.e. Disney-Pixar, etc.) over studios that are not (i.e. GKIDS). The Annie Awards are often criticized for this sort of thing.

The Academy was not available for comment.


Why Oscar Snubbed Pixar, 'Tintin,' 'Arthur Christmas' for Best Cartoon
(By Gregg Kilday, Hollywood Reporter, Feb 7, 2012)

When the Academy Award nominations were announced Jan. 24, most of Hollywood was waiting to see which films would emerge as best picture contenders. But within the smaller, intensely competitive animation community, the focus was on its own feature nominees, and in that category the results were shocking.  Sure, both of DreamWorks Animation's 2011 entries, Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots, made the cut, as did Gore Verbinski's Rango. But where were Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin and Pixar's Cars 2, not to mention Sony/Aardman Animations' Arthur Christmas or Fox's Rio? Instead, two obscure, foreign-language, hand-drawn animated movies, Chico & Rita and A Cat in Paris, rounded out the list of nominees.

Insiders at the various companies snubbed were stunned, though none wanted to go on record with their displeasure. By way of explanation, one Academy member says of the voters: "They were sending a message. They are against motion capture and kids' movies, and they want to save hand-drawn animation."  Well, yes and no. Many traditional animators are suspicious of motion capture or, as it's also known, performance capture, in which actors' performances are fed into a computer. In 2010, they succeeded in adding a line to the Oscar rule book that says, "Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique." That doesn't rule out mo-cap movies; it just means that they must prove they include frame-by-frame animation as well.  In addition to Tintin, two other motion-capture movies, Happy Feet 2 and Mars Needs Moms, were entered; all three were judged sufficiently animated to proceed. (The only movie that ran afoul of Academy rules was The Smurfs, a live-action/animation hybrid that was found not to contain enough actual animation.)

But the fact that Tintin didn't receive a nom in the animation or visual effects categories and that Andy Serkis wasn't nominated as a supporting actor for his work in Rise of the Planet of the Apes suggest, as Visual Effects Society chair Jeffrey Okun puts it: "The industry is confused. It comes down to, 'What is animation?' That is something everyone has been struggling with."

The Academy's ani noms aren't just about kinds of animation, though. They are made by a committee of slightly fewer than 100 members -- half of them animators from the Academy's short films and feature animation branch and half from throughout the Academy. Each member rates each movie on a scale of six to 10. Says Jon Bloom, chair of the branch's executive committee, "Part of the instructions the committee is given is to consider the entire achievement as a whole, not just its animation." That means story, characters, music and vocal performances all come into play. He says no larger lesson can be drawn from this year's choices beyond the fact that it was a highly competitive year. "My own ballot had many highly rated films, far more than five," he says.

But the final list does appear to favor films with elements that appeal to adults -- such as Antonio Banderas' comic take on a Latin lover in Puss or the Clint Eastwood allusions of Rango. That put Cars 2, which some critics had complained was driven by merchandising, at a disadvantage -- even though it was a pet project of Pixar's John Lasseter, who sits on the Academy's board of governors. So, too, Tintin: The character may be beloved in Europe, but here the movie may have seemed too much of a boys' adventure tale.  Chico & Rita, on the other hand, is a genuinely adult movie -- it even features female nudity -- charting a tempestuous love affair between a Cuban songwriter and a sexy singer, set against a musical backdrop that includes everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Tito Puente. "It's a great, beautiful, adult animated film," says Eric Beckman, who heads the New York-based micro-distributor GKids Films, which will release Chico through its adult Luma Films label. He also is handling A Cat in Paris, which follows a cat burglar across the rooftops of Paris. Of the upset, he says, "In all honesty, I expected we'd get one nomination, but I never thought we'd get two."



•Toy Story 3 -- Disney/Pixar (2011)

•Up -- Disney/Pixar (2010)

•WALL-E -- Disney/Pixar (2009)

•Ratatouille -- Disney/Pixar (2008)

•Happy Feet -- Warners (2007)

•Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit -- DreamWorks/Aardman (2006)

•The Incredibles -- Disney/Pixar (2005)

•Finding Nemo -- Disney/Pixar (2004)

•Spirited Away -- Disney/Studio Ghibli (2003)

•Shrek -- DreamWorks (2002)

RIP, RAY HARRYHAUSEN: The Special-Effects Titan Transformed Fantasy On Film
(By Michael Cavna, WashingtonPost, May 08, 2013)

At just 13, Ray Harryhausen stumbled upon an illusion that changed his life. His parents liked to take him to the picture show — “metropolis,” perhaps, or “The Lost World” — but on this particular day in 1933, he went to see “King Kong.” And there, sitting in the dark, young Raymond Harryhausen saw the light.  “King Kong,” with its beastly brawling, featured the stop-motion mastery of Willis O’Brien. Ray exited the theater “haunted” by the film, he would later say — beguiled by how he had escaped into the surreal from the mundane. He became “a ‘King Kong’ addict.” The boy who made La Brea Tar Pit dioramas in school had just witnessed how one’s sculpted art could gurgle and rattle and slither to life. He would soon learn about stop-motion from a friend’s dad, an employee at RKO, and his garage became his lab, as he played God with his molded model creatures, frame by painstaking frame.

Fast-forward to 1949, and again a stop-motion gorilla fills the silver screen. Again it’s the guiding hand of O’Brien at the animated helm. Only this time, helping to summon most of the magic of motion is Ray Harryhausen. His boyhood addiction has propelled him into the business, to work on “Mighty Joe Young.” He had worked with animation while in the Army. Now, one of the great Hollywood careers is born.  Within several years, Ray Harryhausen would make the first of his several Sinbad adventures, and then came his breakthrough with Warner Bros.’ technically influential “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.” Harryhausen devised camera tricks using rear projection and miniature split-screens and masked-out space, as he mastered how to combine stop-motion and live-action in the same frame. Trick by trick, he became the art form’s greatest magician.
Not long after came his masterpiece, 1963’s “Jason and the Argonauts” — complex, deliberate animation that sometimes yielded only a half-second of footage a day. The live actors tangle convincingly with such creatures as Thalos, the towering bronze statue-defender of Crete, and a sword-wielding army of skeletons. The battle scenes are dynamic, the interaction of flesh and coal-eyed armatures is magnificent, and these scenes will help profoundly influence the next generation of technical wizards.

And here is where the cinematic inheritance has a perfect symmetry. Harryhausen glimpsed his life’s work at age 13. What he, himself, would hand down were stop-motion scenes that had that same enchanting power to inspire young minds.  “I probably wouldn’t be a filmmaker today if it weren’t for him,” Sam Fell, co-director of Laika’s Oscar-nominated stop-motion “ParaNorman,” tells Comic Riffs. “My mum took me as an impressionable 9-year-old to the local cinema to see the Sinbad movies. I was completely enthralled by the exotic locations, the malevolent villains and most of all by the creatures Ray created.  “Those things are still etched in my mind all these years later,” continues Fell, whose credits include “Flushed Away” and “The Tale of Despereaux.”
Aardman Studios’ Nick Park (Wallace and Gromit, “Chicken Run”) has called Harryhausen the grandfather of stop-motion animation. And Steven Spielberg has said that Harryhausen is the father of the business that is filmic science fiction and fantasy and adventure.  “Ray Harryhausen’s impact on an entire generation -- several, actually -- of filmmakers cannot be overstated,” Hal Hickel, animation director at ILM, tells Comic Riffs. “All those animators and visual-effects artists whose lives were changed by their first viewings of ‘Jason and The Argonauts,’ or ‘The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad,’ have gone on to transform the way movies are made. Each of them trying again and again to reproduce the wonder they first felt as a child watching Jason fight those skeletons.”

That skeleton crew of earth-born warriors -- and first experiencing them through a child’s eyes -- has stayed with LucasFilm director/animator Brenda Chapman.  “The film that stands out most in my memory is ‘Jason and the Argonauts,’ “ Chapman, who won an Oscar this year for Pixar’s “Brave,” tells Comic Riffs. “The fighting skeletons in that were absolutely hair-raising to me as a kid! I loved every second they were on screen.”  Through “One Million Years B.C.” and “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad,” Harryhausen perhaps got to challenge himself most with 1981’s “Clash of the Titans,” as elaborate, ever-kinetic creatures like the serpent-maned Medusa interacted deftly with the live actors.  In 1992, Harryhausen finally was rightly recognized for his genius with an honorary Oscar. 
On Tuesday, Raymond Harryhausen — who was born in Los Angeles in 1920 — died in London, where he had lived since the ‘60s. He was 92.  “We all owe Ray such an enormous debt of gratitude,” Hickel says.  “He changed the movies and he changed me,” Fell says. “What a life!”  “It’s a sad time for the industry -- but Mr. Harryhausen left us a wonderful and inspired legacy,” Chapman says. “He changed how we imagined storytelling on film in bringing these fantastical images to life. He showed us that anything was possible on film.  “I think that Mr. Harryhausen’s spirit will definitely live on through every new innovation in special effects.”  “I’m very happy that so many young fans have told me that my films have changed their lives,” Harryhausen once said, as cited by “That’s a great compliment. It means I did more than just make entertaining films. I actually touched people’s lives — and, I hope, changed them for the better.”  You did, Ray. You did.

Here is Ray, holding the Kong puppet I made as a child. I owe Ray a lifetime of wonder. Thank you sir.…  — hal hickel (@halhickel) May 7, 2013

Anyone in the world of animation, SFX, or fantasy owes everything to Ray Harryhausen. A true legend. RIP Sir. #rayharryhausen  — andrew stanton (@andrewstanton) May 7, 2013

If I believed in God, I'd want him to be like Ray Harryhausen -- nudging us one frame at a time toward the sublime & fantastic.  — Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) May 7, 2013
RIP Ray Harryhausen. He was a source of inspiration, the master of stop motion, and even a voice actor in Elf. His work still holds up.  — Jon Favreau (@Jon_Favreau) May 7, 2013


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