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The Annie Awards – Animation Comes of Age

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Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Wreck-It Ralph won best animated feature at the Annie Awards, Feb. 2.
At the 40th annual Annies, the awards given by animation craftspeople to their own kind, one reality was clearer than it has ever been before: animation is no longer, as one presenter stated, the little brother in the entertainment industry. Amusingly now, the first animated feature film in the U.S., 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, was called “Disney’s folly” before its spectacular release, and animated works were relegated to the children’s film market deep into the 1980s. Since that time, animated films, television projects, commercials and games have become a mammoth enterprise. And the Annies are a testament to that reality.

In point, before the animation explosion of the past 10 years, animated feature production houses were easy to identify. There was the obvious giant, Disney, and a scant few others who were less active, such as Fox Animation Studios and Warner Bros. Animation. Today, Disney itself is represented by five entities in animated production: Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures, DisneyToon Studios, Disney Television Animation, and of course Pixar Animation Studios. Nearly every major studio either produces its own animated content or is aligned with a satellite studio which delivers said content. For example, Illumination Entertainment, a Santa Monica-based animation house, produces a slate of regular animated content for Universal Pictures.

Surely, the phenomenon has been multi-fold. Beginning with Oliver and Company in 1988 and expanding with The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, Disney resurrected the animated feature for the widest possible audience. Nearly every Disney feature from the late-1980s through the mid-1990s was made for virtually any potential viewer of any age. Additionally, without question, the wild commercial success of the Pixar films, which have been regularly released since 1995, is chief in both their impact on the major studios each wanting their own regular pipeline of animated content, and in the manner in which computer-generated animation has largely taken over the industry. And, if not in entirely equal measure but certainly counted among the reasons for animation’s recent ascension is also the establishment of DreamWorks Animation as a full-fledged content delivery enterprise, one of DreamWorks sole thriving divisions after its 1994 founding.

Also representing the relatively nascent climb of animation into the ranks of key studio releases are houses which include Blue Sky Studios, Laika, Sony Pictures Animation and Nickelodeon. All have major distribution and prioritize projects in their pipeline for maximum potential. And surely enough, all were on hand for the Annies, first co-created in 1973 by longtime animation advocate and participant June Foray, who was honored with a special “Texas Avery Award” at the Feb. 2 ceremony at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Foray noted that back in the early 1970s, animation was widely disregarded, coming at a time after Walt Disney’s death and in a period where the major studios were in a state of disarray, with the old studio system having largely been broken up.

Understandably, Foray is delighted with where animation has landed in the early 21st century, and many of her colleagues seconded her sentiments. Among the gracious winners were the producer and director of Wreck-It Ralph, from Walt Disney Animation Studios, which was named best animated feature film, and Paperman, which was awarded best short film and is available as a free streaming video on sites including YouTube. Television was heavily represented and awarded as well, with a massive talent pool producing original content as has never before been seen in the nearly 60-year history of American TV.

Some of the more touching Annies moments came for special awards to longtime animation supporters, craftspeople and technical achievers. In the evening’s most heartfelt speech, Disney communications chief Howard Green received the aptly named June Foray Award. Green began work for Disney in 1976 in sales and eventually became a chief publicist, working on many projects at the studio over the years. Green oversees all publicity for Disney’s major film releases in what he humbly stated was a dream job. Former animator and now film director Terry Gilliam received a special award called the Windsor McCay for his years toiling as a Monty Python “cutout” animator and gave his acceptance speech via video in which he insisted that he had died as was portrayed in Monty Python and the Holy Grail in 1975. Current Disney animator Mark Henn received the same award for a lifetime of character animation, which he stated was his career goal when he was a young boy.

Many specific awards illuminated the animation process, including significant achievements in animation storyboarding, production design, character animation, both in animated films and live action films, visual effects and music. Most of these craftspeople might not receive Oscars for their work, but at the Annies, it was clear that these artists, who combine the aesthetic with the technical, are animation’s true stars.

Bringing the evening together was lifelong animation supporter, fan, critic, commentator and historian Leonard Maltin, who hosted the event. Maltin maintains a personal collection of treasured animation items and has continually sung the praises of the films and individuals in this field. Without saying the words, Maltin’s insinuations about this particular craft were that, inarguably, animation has finally arrived.

The 2012 Annie Award winners are:

Best Animated Feature

Wreck-It Ralph – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Best Animated Special Production

Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem – Illumination Entertainment

Best Animated Short Subject

Paperman – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Best General Audience Animated TV Production for Preschool Children

Bubble Guppies “A Tooth on the Looth” – Nickelodeon Animation Studios

Best Animated Television Production For Children

Dragons: Riders of Berk “How to Pick Your Dragon” – DreamWorks Animation

Best General Audience Animated Television Production

Robot Chicken “DC Comics Special” – Stoopid Buddy Studios

Animated Video Game

Journey – Sony Computer Entertainment America

Best Student Film

Head Over Heels – Timothy Reckart

Animated Effects in an Animated Production

Andy Hayes, Carl Hooper, David Lipton – Rise of the Guardians – DreamWorks Animation

Animated Effects in a Live Action Production

Jerome Platteaux, John Sigurdson, Ryan Hopkins, Raul Essig, Mark Chataway The Avengers – Industrial Light & Magic

Character Animation in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production

Dan Driscoll SpongeBob SquarePants: It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! – Nickelodeon Animation Studios

Character Animation in a Feature Production

Travis Knight ParaNorman – Focus Features

Character Animation in a Live Action Production

Erik de Boer, Matt Shumway, Brian Wells, Vinayak Pawar, Michael Holzl Life of Pi – Tiger – Rhythm & Hues Studio

Character Design in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production

Robert Valley Disney Tron: Uprising: The Renegade, Part I – Disney TV Animation

Character Design in an Animated Feature Production

Heidi Smith ParaNorman – Focus Features

Directing in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production

John Eng Dragons: Riders of Berk: Animal House – DreamWorks Animation

Directing in an Animated Feature Production

Rick Moore Wreck-It Ralph – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Music in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production

John Paesano Dragons: Riders of Berk: How to Pick Your Dragon – DreamWorks Animation

Music in an Animated Feature Production

Henry Jackman Wreck-It Ralph – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Production Design in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production

Alberto Mielgo Tron: Uprising: The Stranger – Disney TV Animation

Production Design in an Animated Feature Production

Steve Pilcher Brave – Pixar Animation Studios

Storyboarding in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production

Doug Lovelace Dragons: Riders of Berk: Portrait of Hiccup as a Buff Man – DreamWorks Animation

Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production

Johanne Matte Rise of the Guardians – DreamWorks Animation

Voice Acting in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production

Kristen Schaal as Mabel Pines Gravity Falls: Tourist Trapped – Disney TV Animation

Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production

Alan Tudyk as King Candy Wreck-It Ralph – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Writing in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production

Trey Parker – South Park: Jewpacabra – Central Productions

Writing in an Animated Feature Production

Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee – Wreck-It Ralph – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Editorial in an Animated Television Production

Hugo Morales, Adam Arnold, Davrik Waeden, Otto Ferraye Kung Fu Panda – Enter the Dragon – Nickelodeon Animation Studios

Editorial in an Animated Feature Production

Nicholas A. Smith, ACE, Robert Graham Jones, ACE, David Suther Brave – Pixar Animation Studios

Juried Awards

Winsor McCay Award – Oscar Grillo, Terry Gilliam, Mark Henn
June Foray – Howard Green
Ub Iwerks – Toon Boom Animation Pipeline

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