Oscar entranced by a fox, a frog, buttons, balloons and a boy monk

Oscar entranced by a fox, a frog, buttons, balloons and a boy monk
Oscar entranced by a fox, a frog, buttons, balloons and a boy monk
Oscar entranced by a fox, a frog, buttons, balloons and a boy monk

Jason Korsner reports from LA 

6 March 2010

A surprise Irish nominee has been honoured alongside four high profile American contenders for one of the newest prizes to be handed out on Oscars night â the Best Animated Feature.

With his first full-length film, The Secret of Kells, Tomm Moore was joined by the directors of three of his rivals for a question and answer session at an event at the Academy’s Beverly Hills headquarters. “This,” was his simple answer, when the nominees were asked their favourite moments in making their selected films.

The head of the branch of the Academy that oversees Animated Features, Bill Kroyer, opened the event by noting that twenty films qualified for consideration in what was a very strong year for the category â it could have been twenty one, he remarked, but James Cameron refused to let Avatar compete for the animation prize.

The symposium was chaired by animator and animation professor Tom Sito, who joked that of the five nominees this year, only one was what has become traditional in the category, computer generated. Two of this year’s contenders are stop motion and the remaining two are hand-drawn. To add to the breadth of the category, two of them â the computer generated Up and the stop-motion Coraline â were presented in 3D.

Director Henry Selick explained that he was drawn in by Neil Gaiman’s book, Coraline â a dark tale of a girl who gets drawn into a mirrored version of her own world, in which everyone has buttons for eyes and isn’t quite as warm as they first seem. He said he wanted to hold onto the essence of the book, while expanding it into a film. At the time, he said, it wasn’t fashionable to make scary films for children, even though Disney’s earlier films were full of scary moments. Discussing how the 3D element of the film played into his creative concerns, he described how the scenes set in the real-world were much flatter than those in the “other” world â there, even the sets themselves had more depth. Selick started his career as an animator but ventured into live action with the Brendon Fraser film Monkeybone â but he hasn’t been back since. He’s decided that animation is more “friendly” and he prefers working with the smaller teams.

Voiced by George Clooney and Meryl Streep, both of whom have their own Oscar nominations to look forward to on Sunday, the other stop-motion film in the running this year is Fantastic Mr Fox, which opened the London Film Festival. Its director Wes Anderson couldn’t make the symposium â he was back in London.

Pete Docter pointing… Up

But the other 3D film was indeed represented. Up director Pete Docter liked the idea of centring a film on a grouchy old man, for a change; someone who’d lived long enough to have earned the right to tell the truth all the time, rather than hold back. During the five year process of bringing this tale to the screen, the first three didn’t involve any talk of 3D at all. Conscious of the fact that most cinemas â and homes â wouldn’t have access to the 3D technology, Docter said he didn’t want anything in his film that wouldn’t work in two dimensions, so it was only once the characters and the story were in place that the 3D teams were brought in to decide how to add to the film. One method was to squash the space for the periods where the main character was depressed â and deepen it for the brighter moments.

As a Pixar film, Up was executive produced by John Lasseter, who holds the same credit on another of the nominees, the most traditional film of the night â Disney’s latest hand-drawn fairytale, The Princess and the Frog. It was directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, the team behind other Disney classics including Aladdin, Hercules and The Little Mermaid. “Drawings are fun,” they agreed, when asked why they took what some might now see as an old-fashioned approach to this film. They explained that the film’s origin lay in a short Grimm fairytale, The Frog Prince. Both Disney and Pixar had been developing their own versions of the story and four years ago, when Pixar was brought under the Disney umbrella, the film that ended up on our screens sprang to life. Musker and Clements took elements of the story from both the Disney and Pixar versions, as well as adding their own ideas, managing to persuade John Lasseter to go with a musical set in New Orleans, starring Disney’s first African American princess. Randy Newman’s songs had to be integral to the plot, and the film had to feel authentic, they insisted. Even the sound-effects were recorded in New Orleans.

Tomm Moore’s T-Shirt says it all 

The final film of the night â and one that few had been expected to make the short-list â was The Secret of Kells. Tomm Moore joked that he had difficulty imagining children crying “Mum! I want to see the movie about the young monk and the medieval manuscript!” He said it was amazing to be in the company of some of his animating heroes, citing the Disney pair as among his influences. He was keen to use Irish art in the visual style of his film â one of the clips shown at the symposium featured snow-flakes that resembled a celtic cross. He said he needed six million euros to make this film and managed to get only a third of that from his native Ireland, with the rest coming from Germany, France, Belgium and Hungary. Like the money, Moore said he took his influences from everywhere in delivering an unconventional two dimensional style. In 2005, when the project was conceived, he said the feeling in the industry was that 2D was dead, so he set out to make a film that could be made only in 2D and that was as 2D as possible.

So with such a cross-section of styles â from hand-drawn, through stop-motion to computer generated â and in both two and three dimensions â all were agreed that 2009 had been a good year for animated features. This is one of the few categories whose winner could reasonably be said to be â to use the title of one of the live action nominees â up in the air.

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