At UCLA’s Royce Hall, an international consortium of nominees and winners added a multicultural flair to the popular Annie Awards, recognizing the best in animated works across multi media. While Disney-Pixar swept the major categories for their feature Coco, animators, designers, directors, and voiceover artists of all extractions walked the red carpet before a lush party was held for all involved.
First in the main processional, youthful actress Amber Romero, who does voices for Disney XD’s Future Worm, noted her fondness for working in animation. “I absolutely love it,” she said of the medium, now bigger than ever in its popularity. “It’s one of the best jobs out there. When you’re in a booth, you’re basically by yourself, and you get to do whatever you want. It’s all about your voice—that’s all you’re being judged on.
Winning producer of The Breadwinner, for Best Animated Feature—Independent, Nora Twomey hails from Ireland. “We had two Canadian producers, Andrew Rosen and Anthony Leo who brought the book to us in Cartoon Saloon,” she described. “They had the rights to Deborah Ellis’s book for years, so I read it and absolutely loved the way Deborah wrote to young people and didn’t talk down to them.” A co-production in Luxembourg, Canada, and Ireland, Twomey spoke to her film’s success in its portrayal of the main character. “To have empathy with a character like Parvana, her story is so relevant even now, and I think it will continue to be, wherever young girls are growing up in conflict, wherever young girls don’t have access to education,” she stated.
Producer for The Breadwinner, Anthony Leo divulged that the project was made special by its extraordinary mixture of talent on the crew, led by Twomy. “She’s an amazing leader,” Leo said. “She’s super resilient, and we couldn’t have been luckier to find her. She brought it all together in such an impactful and authentic way. The total run time is 92 minutes, and it took us about four years to produce from the script stage, through animation, and up until the end.”
The film’s co-composers, Mychael and Jeff Danna, described their process for creating a musical score for an animated work. Starting early in the film’s timeline, the Dannas remarked how Twomey gave them specific directions for the type of music she sought. “She wanted us to combine the sounds of east and west,” Jeff Danna said. “And to work with Afghan musicians, and it was a difficult part of the process getting all the musicians together. We were able to remotely record people that the Afghanistan National Institute of Music was able to put together for us, including a girls’ choir that is featured on film’s main track.”
Recording the music as they found players, including Afghans in the United States, a full orchestra was later recorded in Europe, and after six months, they mixed the entire score. “There’s a lot of tricks that we’ve learned over the years,” added Mychael Danna. “To get that big-budget studio sound on a smaller budget. There’s some intimate moments where we just needed three to four instruments, and when we need the big thing, we used the European orchestra.”
Winner for his voice acting as Miguel in Coco, Anthony Gonzalez had auditioned when he was nine. “It was so much fun,” Gonzalez said, now 13. “By the time I auditioned, they already had an idea of what Miguel was going to be and I got to go to Pixar when I was 10. Before, I had no idea what this movie was going to be about, and then I learned everything: about Day of the The Dead and the wonderful celebration of the Mexican tradition. I was very happy and wanted to be a part of it.” Lee Unkrich, producer Darla Anderson, and the co-director, Adrian Molina told the young actor what the character was going through. “I would put myself in his shoes, and interpret it that way. I identify with him a lot,” he added.
Actress Courtney Lockwood played the character of Pig in The Dam Keeper, an episodic series of 10 installments, five minutes each, working with Hulu in Japan. Assembled together, the project was presented as a 45-minute short film entitled Pig: The Dam Keeper Poems which was nominated as Best Special Production. The project took 11 months under the auspices of Erick Oh. “A typical day is writing in the morning, brainstorming with various artists, and then editors,” said Oh. “It’s almost like playing on the playground with all the things you love, and your day goes by in the blink of an eye. Whatever I came up with, they were like ‘Oh my god! Yes!’”
For Luc Besson’s feature, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Eric Reynolds, animation supervisor, was nominated for Best Character Animation in a Live-Action Production. Primarily working in New Zealand for a year with a team of 30 animators, he described how Valerian was created with motion-capture performances plus key-frame animation in equal measure. “All the aliens that weren’t bipedal or very human were all key-framed, and then everything else was motion capture—our process is getting better every year,” he said.
Taro Maki, a director working independently in Japan, took six years to make his nominated film In This Corner of the World, with artists in Tokyo, Korea, and China all contributing. “Our research had to figure out what Japan was like during World War II, what the city looked like, what people wore, down to those details,” he said of the conception of the film. “What’s been really great is that our fans, who actually lived during that time, they’ll actually watch the movie and confirm, ‘Yes I remember; I remember all that.’”
Another independent nominated feature, Loving Vincent, was a Polish-UK co-production. English director Hugh Welchman and producer Ivan MacTaggart came to Westwood to represent their specialized production, which was seven years in the making. Welchman’s wife, Dorota Kobiela, wrote and co-directed; hence, the production was divided between her Polish base and Welchman’s English base. In the UK, Loving Vincent was shot with live actors plus served as the hub for the creation of music and sound. Then, in Poland, the material was painstakingly hand-painted in oil paints, with each separate image on an individual canvas, re-imagined in the style of Vincent Van Gogh. “On this film they created a third of a second of footage per day on average,” said Welchman of the eventual 60,000 paintings, each of which was photographed for a total of 130,000 individual images in the film. “For some of the moving camera shots, it took two weeks to do one second, so we invented the slowest form of animation in history. But it was definitely worth it, because the whole point was to be as close to the original Van Gogh paintings and the spirit of them—to bring them to life, to tell Vincent’s story.”
Lastly, the key team behind War for the Planet of the Apes won the Annie for Character Animation in a Live Action Production: Daniel Barrett, animation supervisor, Alessandro Bonora, lead facial modeller, and Dan Lemmon, visual effects supervisor.
Potentially revolutionizing the way in which special characters are brought to the screen, the three newest Apes films featured a groundbreaking method of performance and facial capture techniques to bring computer-generated images to life. “The director, Matt Reeves, really understands if you want strong performances, you get them on the day,” said Barrett of principal photography. “If you don’t get them the first time, you go until he’s happy with the actors and our job from there is simpler as long as we’re matching what he developed with the actor on the day.”
In his position as overall effects supervisor, Lemmon noted that the operative word in his goals for the film is realism. Since Reeves favors long takes, there were 1,200 effects shots in the latest Apes; all but 15 shots had visual effects in the movie’s two-hours-and-20-minutes. “We’re always trying to make the scene in front of the audience be as believable as possible,” he conveyed, “and the big step that we’ve made from Avatar to the Apes films is that we’re taking that performance capture technology in a sterile, dedicated sound stage and bringing it out onto location, so that the actors playing the apes could be in the same scenes as actors who are playing humans in the environment there, to create performances that are authentic.”