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Animation of All Walks Triumphs at 42nd Annie Awards

February 3, 2015 | By

LR-Lee Mendelson-email

Lee Mendelson

Lee Mendelson

Over and above being a mere awards show, the Annies are a celebration of all things animation. Surely, though computer-generated animation dominates the field at present, hand-drawn animation, puppet animation, stop-motion animation, and even claymation are all still utilized on everything from feature films to televised programs, online content, games, advertising and more. Additionally, while 30 years ago scant few featured-length animated projects were being created, much less TV shows and innovative types of media content, in 2014, animation was prevalent in all forms of media.

Joining the fray at UCLA’s Royce Hall were animators, artists, directors, editors, designers, screenwriters and producers from all types of industry incarnations. Throughout a two-hour pre-ceremony red carpet processional, many of these craftspeople delighted in speaking candidly about their endeavors.

For his lifetime contributions to the art of animation, producer Lee Mendelson received the Winsor McCay Award at the Jan. 31 ceremony. “It’s a great honor for me,” he said. “I’m really here to pay homage to the great animators we worked with – Bill Melendez on Charlie Brown, Phil Roman on Garfield – and the cartoonists, Charles Schulz and Jim Davis. The best show we ever did was The Great Pumpkin – Charlie Brown. I spent 50 years in an industry I never thought I would be in. We did 50 Charlie Brown specials from 1965 to 1985, and we did 130 Garfields starting in the early 1980s.”

Didier Brunner

Didier Brunner

Another Winsor McCay winner, French animation producer Didier Brunner was humbled at the accolades he received from his peers. “This is my achievement as a producer. It’s for me a very important prize, perhaps better than an Oscar, because it comes from my family – the people of animation.” Among other projects, Brunner’s career triumphs include The Triplets of Belleville. The third Winsor McCay winner was animator/director Don Lusk who started at Disney in 1933.

Even a youngster like Caitlin Carmichael, only 10, is a regular voice actor on animated projects and is already immersed in many forms of media. “This is my first time at the Annie Awards, and I love animated projects,” she said. “I’m on Disney’s Doc McStuffins and Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra. I love the whole process.”

With short animated films making something of a comeback, Patrick Osbourne, who directed the winning short Feast, and Kristina Reed who produced it, created their film entirely in the Animation Building on the Disney lot in Burbank. “It’s a 53-week process,” said Osbourne. “The shorts are taking advantage of all of the talent we have there, in between features. It’s fantastic to have all that amazing work put into your story. This is the first official shorts program for Disney Animation.”

“Out of over 75 ideas, Patrick’s was picked,” Reed noted of the project.

Caitlin Carmichael

Caitlin Carmichael

To make the 18-minute nominated short film, The Dam Keeper, nine months of work, including postproduction, took place. Co-writers/directors Robert Kondo and Daisuke ‘Dice’ Tsutsumi and producer Megan Bartel decided on traditional hand-drawn animation produced in Emeryville, in a rented space across the street from Pixar. “It was almost all volunteer,” Bartel said of the crew.

“We painted every frame traditionally,” said Tsutsumi. “I absolutely believe there will always be a place for hand-drawn animation. You can feel the artist’s touch. That’s something we’ll always strive for.”

Animation writer-director Torill Kove and producer Marcy Page were on hand to represent Me and My Moulton, a 14-minute Canadian-Norwegian co-production, done in hand-drawn animation, concerning a young Norwegian girl in the 1960s. “This is our peers, and we’re here to have fun and celebrate each other,” Kove said. Page noted that hand-drawn work still has a place in a computer-heavy field. “Animation is wide open,” she said. “People appreciate that range.”

Prominent Simpsons TV producer Ron Diamond of Gracie Films in Los Angeles produced a nominated short entitled The Simpsons: Michal Socha Couch Gag, created in Warsaw, Poland. “I never expected it to get this nomination,” Diamond said of his very brief film, with a total running time of 1:20. “It’s a mixture of 2D and 3D animation – using whatever tool is right for the scene. We have 50 Simpsons directors in 24 countries.”

From left: Steven Seagle, Ryan Potter and Duncan Rouleau.

From left: Steven Seagle, Ryan Potter and Duncan Rouleau.

Nominee John Hurst was the storyboard artist on Rio 2 for Blue Sky Studios and 20th Century Fox. “I use a digital program, but my storyboards are done by hand,” he said. “It’s a lot like drawing straight into Photoshop: hundreds of hundreds of dancing birds that I have to draw over and over again. It takes a while – especially a full musical number. Usually, I do four minutes of screen time in a chunk.”

Iconoclastic Adi Shankar, Indian-born actor and producer, created a Judge Dredd fan film in 2012, fully animated with a studio, Angry Metal, he set up in Spain. “I released it for free on YouTube just for the fans,” he said. “My whole MO is to bring hyper-violent R-rated projects to the American market. I’m a multi-hyphenate, but what I like about entertainment is you can be an amalgamation of different things that you’re interested in.”

Graham_Annable (left) and Anthony_Stacchi.

Graham_Annable (left) and Anthony_Stacchi.

Nominated for music in an animated TV series were co-writers Jeppe Riddervold from Copenhagen and Erin Chapman from the U.S. who wrote a title song “The Weekend Whip” for the Cartoon Network show LEGO Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu, while composers Los Angeles-based Jay Vincent and Michael Kramer were nominated on the same project for their score. “There’s such a diversity in Cartoon Network,” said Vincent. “We do totally different things but share an audience.” With LEGO being a Danish company, WIL Film from Denmark creates the show with 100 animators in Denmark, 150 animators in China and voice actors all working in America.

Song of the Sea was created globally as well, garnering seven Annie nominations. Producer Claus Toksvig Kjaer noted that being at the Annies was “amazing. It was a digital 2D film almost four years in the making. We still draw the drawings, just not on paper,” he said. “We ended that project a year ago and already finished another film, Long Way North.” Much of Song of the Sea was animated in Ireland and Luxembourg with about 35 minutes of finished film animated in Denmark.

Nominated The Boxtrolls voice artist for the character of Fish, Dee Bradley Baker has been doing such work since the late 1980s. “I’m very happy to have a thriving career,” he said. “I’m out there working all of the time. The most important thing was getting the tone of the Boxtrolls down – that they had a heart – these sweet little children who are afraid and are fighting a lot of prejudice, really.”

Also on hand from the puppet-animated The Boxtrolls were nominated co-directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi. “Laika bought the rights about 10 years ago,” said Stacchi. “It’s only about 18 months of actual production when you start making the movie. It’s the same process as any other animated movie.”

Though the puppets have a metal armature, Boxtrolls was completed with a hybrid of the latest technology and the oldest methods in stop-motion animation. “At Laika, they do rapid prototype printed faces that they print by the thousands with little minute changes in expressions,” said Annable. “That’s how they animate the faces. We animate the faces on the computer first, and then we print them out with a 3D printer, and when we animate the puppet, the faces are put on with little magnets on the back that make the faces lock into place in perfect registration.” At its peak, Boxtrolls included 350 Laika workers in the Portland studio.

Nominated for best writing in an animated feature production, Irena Brignull worked on The Boxtrolls six years ago for three years, adapting the book by Alan Snow, and worked another three years on the project later on from her London base. “It was quite different, with tons of characters in it,” she said, “so it was a case of carving it down, and trying to find a good story there. It’s always a bit scary at first, but once you start, there’s loads of people involved and lots of collaboration.”

Annie nominee Dave Clayton hails from Australia and worked at Weta Digital in New Zealand supervising animation for the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. “In his face alone, we had to do hundreds of facial movements,” he said. “He had to give us convincing dialogue in closeup. It took a year of development – trial and error. Originally he had four arms, and we collapsed that down into back legs and front wings. He’s got to be the ultimate dragon.”

Annie winner (and Weta’s own in-house competitor to Smaug) was native New Zealander Daniel Barrett representing a team of five Weta Digital artists for the character animation in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. “To create the characters to look so realistic is a big challenge,” he said of animation based on human bodily and facially motion-captured performances. “There’s a lot of exploration that goes on in the early days when you are translating human facial performances onto the faces of chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. We look in great detail and it takes a long, long time. But we have these fantastic templates delivered to us by [director] Matt Reeves and the actors.”

 

The Book of Life’s production and character designer, Annie winner Paul Sullivan, and production manager Cindy Rangel, spoke of their five-year journey. “We did a series of paintings, sculptures, character designs, and showed it to Guillermo del Toro,” said Sullivan. “He signed on as our executive producer. Then we got 21st Century Fox as a partner. We moved into production – we had a year and 10 months for that.”

“People from all over the world saw this artwork,” added Rangel, “and migrated over to Dallas, Texas [to Reel Effects] to work on it. They poured their heart and souls into this project.”

At Marvel Comics, artist Duncan Rouleau and writer Steven Seagle created Big Hero 6, adapted into a best animated feature nominee by Walt Disney Animation Studios. “When we made up the characters 15 years ago, they had very little traction,” Seagle said of their original pencil sketches. “It’s been amazing to watch this transformation in making it a global phenomenon.”

Rouleau added, “What was really nice is when we went and talked to Don Hall, [Big Hero 6’s co-director], we brought in those sketches and some of the original material. It was nice to see how they worked their way back into it. What we were the happiest about — it was nice to see that Don had centered back in to those things. The heart of the characters, and the characters themselves, had real motivations and real purpose.”

Co-directors Don Hall and Chris Williams plus producer Roy Conli were also present for Big Hero 6, a major hit for Walt Disney Animation Studios. “It’s been a joyous experience for us,” said Conli. “It’s the great thing about Disney animation. We are a vertically integrated studio. It’s all done in Burbank. You can really control quality, and if there’s anything that needs to happen, you can get it done.”

“Every drawing, every frame of animation is done in our building,” added Williams. “It was about three-and-a-half years from pitch to finish. Animation was eight months. We put years of our lives into these things, and we ask a crew of 500 people to put everything they have into this thing for years of their lives. To have the movie received the way it’s been that connects with people is pretty exciting.”

Nominated for Big Hero 6’s character design, Shiyoon Kim and Jin Kim spoke about the project’s enormity working in Disney’s animation building. Jin worked on computer and hand-drawn methods – in Photoshop and in pencil and paper. “It’s a fantastic honor, especially coming from our peers,” Shiyoon stated. “We work together. I worked at least a year on it in Photoshop on a Cintiq.”

Lastly, the nominated LEGO Movie was represented by its key creative team: co-screenwriters and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, co-director/animation director/editor Chris McKay and producer Dan Lin. “The animation was done in Australia at Animal Logic,” said Lin. “350 people worked on the entire crew,” McKay stated of the project which began life five years ago. Warner Bros. eventually jumped on board. Though perhaps not as lauded in some circles as its competitors, The LEGO Movie has received wide acclaim from animation insiders and has earned many times its budget in box office.

After the processional, the full Annies ceremony took place, followed by a sumptuous after-party.

The 42nd Annie Award winners are:

Best Animated Feature
How to Train Your Dragon 2
DreamWorks Animation

Best Animated Special Production
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
Voyager Pictures LLC

Best Animated Short Subject
Feast
Walt Disney Animation Studios

Best Animated Television/Broadcast Commercial
Flight of the Stories – Aardman Animations

Best Animated TV/Broadcast Production For Preschool Children
Tumble Leaf
Amazon Studios

Best Animated Television/Broadcast Production For a Children’s Audience
Gravity Falls
Disney Television Animation

Best General Audience Animated Television/Broadcast Production
The Simpsons
Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox Television

Best Video Game
Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Ubisoft

Best Student Film
Jason Rayner – My Big Brother
Savannah College of Art and Design

Animated Effects in an Animated Production
Michael Kaschalk, Peter DeMund, David Hutchins, Henrik Falt, John Kosnik
Big Hero 6 – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Animated Effects in a Live Action Production
Steve Avoujageli, Atsushi Ikarashi, Pawel Grochola, Paul Waggoner, Viktor Lundqvist
Edge of Tomorrow – Sony Pictures Imageworks

Character Animation in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production
Justin Nichols – Wander Over Yonder
Disney Television Animation

Character Animation in an Animated Feature Production
Fabio Lignini – How to Train Your Dragon 2
DreamWorks Animation

Character Animation in a Live Action Production
Daniel Barrett, Paul Story, Eteuati Tema, Alessandro Bonora, Dejan Momcilovic – ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Weta Digital

Character Animation in a Video Game
Mike Mennillo – “Assassin’s Creed Unity”
Ubisoft

Character Design in an Animated TV/Broadcast Production
Benjamin Balistreri – Wander Over Yonder
Disney Television Animation

Character Design in an Animated Feature Production
Paul Sullivan, Sandra Equihua, Jorge R. Gutierrez – The Book of Life
Reel FX

Directing in an Animated TV/Broadcast Production
Aaron Springer – Disney Mickey Mouse
Disney Television Animation

Directing in an Animated Feature Production
Dean DeBlois – How to Train Your Dragon 2
DreamWorks Animation

Music in an Animated TV/Broadcast Production
Christopher Willis – Disney Mickey Mouse
Disney Television Animation

Music in an Animated Feature Production
John Powell, Jónsi – How to Train Your Dragon 2
DreamWorks Animation

Production Design in an Animated TV/Broadcast Production
Narina Sokolova – Mickey Shorts
Disney

Production Design in an Animated Feature Production
Paul Lasaine, Tom McClure, August Hall – The Boxtrolls
Focus Features/Laika

Storyboarding in an Animated TV/Broadcast Production
Joaquim Dos Santos – Legend of Korra, Venom of the Red Lotus
Nickelodeon Animation Studio

Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production
Truong “Tron” Son Mai – How to Train Your Dragon 2
DreamWorks Animation

Voice Acting in an Animated TV/Broadcast Production
Bill Farmer as the voice of Goofy and Grandma – Disney Mickey Mouse
Disney Television Animation

Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production
Sir Ben Kingsley as the voice of Archibald Snatcher – The Boxtrolls
Focus Features/Laika

Writing in an Animated TV/Broadcast Production
Darrick Bachman – Disney Mickey Mouse
Disney Television Animation

Writing in an Animated Feature Production
Phil Lord, Christopher Miller – The LEGO Movie
Warner Bros. Pictures

Editorial in an Animated TV/Broadcast Production
Illya Owens – Disney Mickey Mouse
Disney Television Animation

Editorial in an Animated Feature Production
John K. Carr – How to Train Your Dragon 2
DreamWorks Animation

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