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Academy 2007 StandAlone – Animation

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Animation has long been near and dear to the hearts of Oscar voters. The animated short film category has been a staple of the awards since the early 1930s and Walt Disney holds the record for the most Oscars, with 22 wins—half of them for animated shorts—and four honorary statuettes.But it took the still-growing ‘toon boom of the past decade to make animated features a part of the annual Oscar-fest, as the increasing popularity and success of CGI films in particular led the Academy to establish the animated feature category in 2001.While computers and craftsmanship have fueled the boom in animated features, the category is not about evaluating the animation itself, it’s about the overall quality of the film.Animator Carl Bell, a member of the Academy’s board of governors, says that animation technique is not the first thing voters should be thinking about. “It’s a film, whether it’s animated or running speed—what they call live action—and it’s about your response, how does it feel to you,” he says. “You don’t want to be thinking about the frame-by-frame process of how it was done.”Jon Bloom, chairman of the short films and feature animation branch of the Academy, agrees. “This is an award like a best picture or best foreign film that is awarded to the best overall film that has been animated, so it’s more about the entire work than it is about the exact quality of the animation.”Bloom and Bell say Academy voters are a sophisticated group that is more than capable of evaluating animated features without advice or specific knowledge of animation technology or techniques. More than half of the nominating committee comes from the short films and animation branch and represent a wide range of skills, from character animators and background animators to writers, directors, producers and voice-over artists, Bloom says. The remainder comes from other Academy members who volunteer to be part of the committee.”Therefore, built into the nomination is this intent for the category, which is that it is not just an animation award, but an animated film award, with emphasis on the entire work and everything that goes into it, including the animation,” Bloom says.”The voters are a very sophisticated group of motion picture people and I think quite qualified to judge animated feature films with or without advisement,” Bell says. “You can’t tell anyone how to vote in any case.”Each voter has a different perspective that may affect their opinion and their vote, Bell says. “A producer, director or actor would not view a film with the same point of view. Most will look for the story.”There are no official guidelines for the general membership that votes on the winning films to evaluate animated features save the standard rules of fairness. “The expectation for Academy members when voting at the Academy is that members, on the honor system, are expected not to vote in categories where they have not seen all of the nominated achievements,” Bloom says.This approach may seem to de-emphasize the actual art of animation, but Bell says that the quality of the animation is so essential to the success of a film that it is automatically a part of the equation. If a film is animated with detail and style that serves the story, or in a way that advances the art of animation by creating imagery never before seen on screen, it will be as obvious to voters as clunky animation and inferior work, Bell says.The category seems poised to grow, as the number of techniques available to animators expands. In the animated feature category’s short existence, films have been nominated that use traditional paint and ink, stop motion, 3D computer imagery and various combinations thereof. Motion-capture animation is likely to join that list, with the success of films such as The Polar Express and the use of the technique in a pair of films released this year: Sony’s Monster House and the action-adventure film Renaissance.”The main stipulation in short or feature animation is that it must be a frame-by-frame technique,” Bell says.That definition includes motion capture and rotoscoping, which was used on Richard Linklater’s films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. “Those still qualify as animated film because even though some of the data used to animate the film is captured at speed, they’re still largely animated,” Bloom says.CGI films have made the biggest splash, but all these techniques have been lifted by animation’s growing popularity. Last year two of the three animation nominees—Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride and eventual winner Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit—used stop-motion techniques and the third film, Howl’s Moving Castle, was a traditional 2-D animated film.Not every technique that may at first glance appear to be animation qualifies. “A couple of years ago Team America was entered but not accepted in the category because it was judged to be largely 24 frame-per-second, shot at speed, live action kind of film—I mean it was puppets being shot at speed as opposed to actors,” Bloom says.That distinction is all that seems to separate the animated feature category from the best picture race. Animated features remain eligible for best picture or foreign-language film consideration, but only the 1991 Disney film Beauty & the Beast has made the cut. Disney won an honorary Oscar for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as did John Lasseter for Toy Story.Bell says the Academy did not think there were not enough animated features being made to justify a category until 2001. The creation of the category remains controversial, with some calling the category a ghetto that largely removes animated features from best picture consideration, while others are pleased to see the Academy recognize animated features.Bloom says the academy created the category “to recognize that this is a real unique genre that is now having a real renaissance and that it was valuable and legitimate to create a category that honored it specifically and individually with its peers as opposed to it rarely slipping into the best picture category. But the hope is still that a great film would still be eligible for best picture. It’s just that historically that hasn’t happened too much.”

Written by Tom McLean

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