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Category: Animation

'Tintin': Steven Spielberg animates an Oscar debate

 

The release of "The Adventures of Tintin" trailer this week revealed the look of director Steven Spielberg's long-gestating adaptation of the popular European comic series. The story of an intrepid young reporter on a hunt for a ship's treasure inspired by the work of Belgian artist Hergé, "Tintin" was shot in a shadowy film noir style using the same performance capture technology that James Cameron deployed on "Avatar."

The trailer's scenes of photo-real characters adventuring in an animated world raise anew a question that has bedeviled the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in recent years -- how to treat films that use performance capture, or motion capture as the technique is also called. Relying on both actors and animators to tell its story, "Tintin" is one of a growing category of movies that don't fit neatly in either the animation category or live action.

"You’ll never be able to define an animated film by how it looks, cause we’re using the same artists, the same software, the same computers to do very cartooney stuff and very photo-real stuff," said Bill Kroyer, a governor of the academy's short films and animation branch. "Where are you going to draw the line? You can see how this is going to become an increasing problem. From our standpoint, it's about preserving a specific art form."

With star power like Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson behind it, "Tintin" looks likely to garner awards season attention, and if it does, Spielberg would like it to be in the animated category, according to a spokeswoman at Paramount Pictures.

"In a year filled with sequels, ['Tintin'] should stand out for its originality," said Bill Desowitz, senior editor of the Animation World Network, an animation publishing group. "The Hergé comics, while unknown to most Americans, offer a sense of grand adventure and nostalgia. Meanwhile, the colorful, hyper-real look of the animation, with its exotic locations, should help bolster the appeal."

AMPAS amended its rules in 2010 to address motion capture. In addition to "Avatar," the technique has been used on films including "Polar Express," "Happy Feet" and the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. To make these films, actors wear a body suit with markers, and cameras record their movements. Then visual effects artists and animators add to the actor's performance.

"Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique," the academy rules stipulate. "In addition, a significant number of the major characters must be animated, and animation must figure in no less than 75% of the picture’s running time."

"Tintin" relies on motion capture performances for most of its major characters, including Tintin, played by Jamie Bell, a pirate (Daniel Craig) and a pair of bumbling detectives (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost). But animators are working with those performances -- Pegg and Frost, for instance, who are physical opposites in real life, play twins.

"If it was intended to simply be a copy of a live actor’s work, then we would not consider it animation," Kroyer said. "At the moment, we have not determined a way to make that decision. It lies with the intention of the director."

In the case of "Avatar," Cameron chose to campaign his film, which relied on such actors as Zoe Saldana and Sam Worthington and on animators at Weta Digital to create its tall, blue characters, as live action.

By calling "Tintin" animated, Spielberg, who will also have the live action film "War Horse" in awards contention this year, is stepping into an industry debate about the motion capture technique.

In 2006, the motion capture movie "Happy Feet" won the animated feature Oscar, inspiring a backlash against the technique among animators who consider it either disempowering or cheating. The credits of the Pixar movie "Ratatouille," released the following year, included the prickly disclaimer: "Our Quality Assurance Guarantee: 100% Genuine Animation! No motion capture or any other performance shortcuts were used in the production of this film."

"You have opinions that run the entire gamut," said Kroyer. "You have people who are prophets of motion capture  and other people who say it’s heresy and I will never use it. I think mo-cap is as legitimate a tool as anything for making films, but it’s not the kind of animation we always did."

The motion capture Oscar debate is not likely to go away any time soon -- Jackson's "The Hobbit: Part 1," which will rely on the technique for some characters, is due in 2012, a second "Tintin" movie is currently slated for 2013 and "Avatar 2" is coming in 2014.

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--Rebecca Keegan

twitter.com/@thatrebecca


Oscars: 'Toy Story 3' wins for animated feature

Lee "Toy Story 3" won the Oscar for animated feature at the 83rd Academy Awards on Sunday night. The win was expected, because the box office blockbuster had won the lion's share of awards for animated films this season. "Toy Story 3" was also nominated for four other Academy Awards, including best picture.

Director Lee Unkrich accepted the award.

"Toy Story 3" was competing against "How to Train Your Dragon" and France's "The Illusionist."

The Academy Awards are taking place at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood and are being televised live on ABC. We'll carry all the breaking news and reaction here on Awards Tracker.

— Susan King

Photo: Lee Unkrich and his Oscar. Credit: Associated Press.

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Oscars: 'Our peers in live action film don't understand what we do,' says Lee Unkrich

Toy story 3 
Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross busted open Hamm the Piggy Bank to promote “Toy Story 3” in the best picture Oscar race. And although Pixar’s latest seems likely to take home the animated feature prize, it appears to have made little headway in the broader category.

“Toy Story 3” director Lee Unkrich isn’t exactly surprised by the showing and doesn’t see voters’ prejudices toward animation changing anytime soon.

“It’s not only that people think of animation as just for kids,” Unkrich says. “Frankly, a lot of our peers in live-action film don’t understand what we do. They don’t understand how [animated] films are made. Once we take the time to explain our process, they understand that, yes, we’re working from the same tool box and that every aspect of making our films has a corollary in live action.”

Those looking for that precise education need only to cue up the bonus feature on the “Toy Story 3” Blu-ray that takes viewers step by step through the making of the film’s opening western sequence.

“It’s still mysterious to most people how our movies are made,” Unkrich says. “I bump into producers who say, ‘I know what a director does in live action, but what do you do exactly?’ I don’t know what they think I do, but if you see the movie up there on screen, there are millions and billions of little choices made to get that film up there.”

“But then, I still run into people who say they haven’t seen ‘Toy Story 3’ because they haven’t found a kid to take,” Unkrich adds. “So, yes, we have a long way to go.”

-- Glenn Whipp

Photo: "Toy Story 3." Credit: Disney; Pixar

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Academy Awards: 'Toy Story 3's' Lee Unkrich and the alternate future that almost was

Toy story 3 
Pixar Animation vets tend to be a little obsessive about their creations. That protectiveness leads to bizarre conversations like when “Toy Story 3” director Lee Unkrich was telling the film’s writer, Michael Arndt, that, no, Mr. Potato Head just wouldn’t talk to Mrs. Potato Head like that, so can you please rewrite that bit of dialogue?

So you can imagine what Unkrich was thinking seven years ago when then-Disney chairman Michael Eisner, in the midst of contentious contract renewal talks, commissioned a third “Toy Story” movie without any involvement from the franchise's Pixar originators. (As part of its original deal, Disney controlled the rights to characters from Pixar’s first seven movies, all the way through “Cars.”)

“We felt like we had come home one day and our children had been taken from the house and were being raised by another family,” says Unkrich, whose movie has been nominated for both best picture and animated feature, as well as adapted screenplay. “And God bless those guys, they were just doing their jobs, but how do you carry the torch for characters you don’t really intimately know?”

The non-Pixar version of “Toy Story 3,” drafted by “Meet the Parents” writer Jim Herzfeld, had the toys shipping themselves to Taipei to rescue Buzz Lightyear, who had been recalled. The screenplay included Buzz offering a twist on his signature catchphrase, exclaiming, “To infinity and be-yotch.”

Needless to say, the line doesn’t pass the smell test with Unkrich, though, again, he harbors no ill will toward Herzfeld or anyone else involved, he said during an interview for a longer story.

“Someone asked me recently if I was ever interested in seeing what they did,” Unkrich says. “We stayed away from it, wanting to make our movie as if that had never happened. But now that we’re all done, I would like to see it. It’d be like high-end fan fiction, a glimpse into an alternate future that never came to be.”

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-- Glenn Whipp

"Toy Story 3" photo from Associated Press / Disney


'How to Train Your Dragon' sweeps animation awards

Dragon 
DreamWorks Animation's "How to Train Your Dragon" swept the 38th Annie Awards on Saturday night, winning 10, including best animated feature. DreamWorks alone won 15 of 24 categories.

Though "Toy Story 3" was nominated for best animated feature, the favorite to win the animation Oscar wasn't expected to win at the Annies because Disney and Pixar had dropped out of the International Animation Film Society-Hollywood, which sponsors the awards, last summer due to a dispute over voting procedures. Even so, Pixar's "Day & Night" did win best animated short, though filmmaker Teddy Newton was not on hand at the ceremony at UCLA's Royce Hall to pick up the award.
 
Among the other winners:

Best animated television production: "Kung Fu Panda Holiday"
Best animated television production for children: "SpongeBob SquarePants"
Character animation in a TV production: David Pate for "Kung Fu Panda Holiday"
Character animation in a feature production: Gabe Hordos: "How to Train Your Dragon"
Character animation in a live-action production: Ryan Page, "Alice in Wonderland"
Directing in a TV production: Tim Johnson, "Kung Fu Panda Holiday"
Directing in a feature production: Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois, "How to Train Your Dragon"
Music in a feature production: John Powell, "How to Train Your Dragon"
 
The Windsor McCay Award went to Brad Bird, Eric Goldberg and Matt Groening.

For a complete list of winners go to www.annieawards.org.

-- Susan King

Photo: A scene from "How to Train Your Dragon." Credit: Paramount Pictures


Oscar-winners Alan Menken, Randy Newman, Gwyneth Paltrow performing at Academy Awards

 

 Gwen 

 
Don Mischer and Bruce Cohen, producers of the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, have lined up the talent who will perform the Oscar-nominated songs during the ceremony on Feb. 27.

Gwyneth Paltrow, who won the lead actress Oscar for 1998's "Shakespeare in Love," will perform "Coming Home" from her latest film, "Country Strong."

A.R. Rahman, who won Academy Awards two years ago for score and song for "Slumdog Millionaire," and Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine, will perform "I Rise" from the film "127 Hours." Rahman is nominated for writing the music, Dido and Rollo Armstrong are up for their lyrics.

Alan Menken, who has won eight Oscars including best score and song for "Beauty and the Beast," which he shared with Howard Ashman, from the 1991 Disney classic of the same name, will accompany singers Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi on his latest Oscar-nominated tune, "I See the Light" from "Tangled." Glenn Slater wrote the song's lyrics.

And Randy Newman, who won the best song Oscar for "If I Didn't Have You" from 2001's "Monsters Inc., will perform his nominated song, "We Belong Together" from "Toy Story 3."

The Oscars will be telecast live on ABC from the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland.

-- Susan King

Photo: Gwyneth Paltrow will perform at the Oscars. Credit: Matt Sayles / Associated Press


How the first animated sequence in a 'Harry Potter' movie came about

Harry Potter 2 
We asked animation director Ben Hibon to discuss the animated sequence in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1," which picked up two Oscar nominations, one for art direction and one for visual effects. Here's what he had to say:

"This is the first animated sequence ever to appear in a Harry Potter film, so it had to be distinctive and special. It’s not animation as we might think of it today; it is a moving illustration of the story being read aloud by Hermione — the story of the Deathly Hallows. The fact that the sequence would be explaining the origin of the title made it all the more important.

"In a moment that takes our central characters to a world of ancient fables, the titular tale of the Three Brothers, found in the book ‘The Tales of Beedle the Bard,’ has an eerie undertone, reminiscent of the timeless Grimms’ fairy tales, which I found particularly relevant for us. Although they are labeled as ‘children’s tales,’ they often tell stories of dark kingdoms and sinister characters. We wanted the audience to experience the story as if through the imagination of a young child.

"The work of artist Lotte Reiniger from the 1930s was another early reference. Her silhouette-style stop-motion animations are beautifully handcrafted and captured the naïve visual tone we were after. We also looked at Asian shadow-play, which is visually striking, very intricate and yet so beautifully simple. The technique is basic, but the end result is particularly charming and engaging. There’s something so ingenious about projecting shadows onto a simple cloth.

"The shapes and motions can be very enigmatic and leave a lot of scope for invention, experimentation and interpretation. A shadow play evokes a sense of wonder and enchantment. It can take one’s imagination beyond what’s actually on the screen. What you don’t see is as important as what you see. Of course, the characters are the centerpiece of the story, a set of elongated human-like dark silhouettes.

"Their designs are reminiscent of handcrafted wooden puppets; their gestures are limited to basic articulation. The crude feel of the animation accentuates the characters’ theatrical performances, the simple outlines drawing our attention to the smallest of details — each subtle hand movement, each head motion gets interpreted as another nuance of human emotion.

"Animation is the art of smoke and mirrors, lights and shadows, and the team of artists behind this piece are true magicians."

 — Ben Hibon

Photo from Warner Bros.


Oscar nominations: 'How to Train Dragon Your Dragon' director says he doesn't make movies for kids

Dragon

Dean DeBlois, the director and writer of the animated “How to Train Your Dragon,” says he doesn’t make movies for kids, and that’s why his now-Oscar-nominated film connected with audiences so much.

He said that he and Chris Sanders, the movie’s co-director and co-writer, “have the same mentality about this: We don’t make movies for children. We wanted to make a story like the adventure stories we loved as kids. I think in a way that achieves the broadest audience possible.”

“Dragon” was nominated for best animated film, alongside “The Illusionist” and “Toy Story 3.” But “Toy Story 3” also was one of the 10 nominees in the general best picture category –- something that thrilled DeBlois.

“The culture has changed,” he said Tuesday morning, “and I think people are starting to see animated films, I think, with an eye towards importance. I’m very proud.”

“Dragon” received a second nomination, in the category of original score.

DeBlois said he’s proud of and excited for his entire crew. “We had very little time to work on the movie, at the end of the movie. It’s so nice to have a movie you can take your spouse and loved ones to see it and be proud of it and for it,” he said, calling the nomination “the cherry on the sundae.”

-- Amy Kaufman

Photo: Chris Sanders, left, director and writer of the animated feature "How to Train Your Dragon," and producer Bonnie Arnold and director and writer Dean DeBlois arrive at the Golden Globes last week. Credit: Danny Moloshok / Reuters


'Inception' dominates Visual Effects Society's annual nominations

 Inception

For the Visual Effects Society, "Inception" was the leading nominee on the film side  as the Christopher Nolan film dominated the organization's annual picks with four nods. Nolan will also receive the inaugural VES Visionary Award, which will be presented Feb. 1 at the Beverly Hills Hotel. 

In addition to "Inception," the other films chosen for outstanding visual effects in a visual-effects driven feature motion picture included "Iron Man 2," "Tron: Legacy," "Alice in Wonderland" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1."

"Inception" was also nominated for outstanding created environment in a live-action film for its Paris dreamscape; outstanding models & miniatures in a motion picture for its hospital fortress destruction; and outstanding compositing in a motion picture.

In the category of outstanding supporting visual effects in a feature motion picture, the nominees were "Green Zone," "Salt," "Hereafter," "Black Swan" and "Robin Hood." In the animation category, "Tangled," "How to Train Your Dragon," "Toy Story 3," "Shrek Forever After" and "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" all are being considered for a top prize.

In the television category, HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" led with five nominations. For best supporting visuals in a broadcast program, that drama will go up against "Lost," "The Walking Dead," "Human Target" and the now canceled "Undercovers."

VES recognizes outstanding visual effects in film, television, commercials and video games. For the full list of nominees go to www.visualeffectssociety.com. The ceremony will air on Reelz Channel on Feb. 19.

--Nicole Sperling

Scene from "Inception" from Warner Bros.


2010 Annie Awards nominees are announced

Dragon 

"How to Train Your Dragon," the DreamWorks Animation box office hit, took home an armload of nominations Monday morning from the International Animated Film Society ASIFA-Hollywood, including best feature. Other nominees in that top category for the 38th annual Annie Awards are "Despicable Me," "Tangled," "The Illusionist" and "Toy Story 3."

The Annie Awards also honor the best in TV productions, commercials and short subjects, as well as individual achievements in the field of animation.

In August though, Disney/Pixar withdrew from the organization after taking issue with the Annies'  judging process and no longer participates in the awards. Though Disney's current box office hit "Tangled" and the acclaimed blockbuster "Toy Story 3" did earn best picture nods, they picked up only a few additional nominations on Monday: Lee Unkrich was nominated for best director and Michael Arndt for writing for "Toy Story 3"; and Dan Fogelman earned a nod for writing "Tangled." 

"How to Train Your Dragon" earned the majority of the nominations. Besides best film, it also earned two nominations in the animated effects in an animated production category, three nominations in the character animation category, a nomination for character design,  two for storyboarding, two in voice acting, a nomination for production design, nominations for best direction for Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, and a nomination for music and best writing for William Davies, Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders.  On the TV side, "'How to Train Your Dragon Winter Olympic Interstitial "Speed Skating" was nominated for best animated television commercial.

The traditionally hand-drawn "The Illusionist," from France's "The Triplets of Belleville" director Sylvain Chomet, also did well in the nominations. Besides best film, Chomet was nominated for best director, music, character design and writing. The film opens on Christmas.

Nominees for best animated television production are "Futurama," "Kung Fu Panda  Holiday," "Scared Shrekless," "Star Wars: The Clone Wars 'Arc Troopers'" and "The Simpsons."

Best animated television production for children nominations went to "Adventure Time," "Cloudbread," "Fanboy & Chum Chum," "Regular Show" and "Spongebob Squarepants."

Best animated video game nominees are "Heavy Rain," "Kirby's Epic Yarn," "Limbo" and "Shank."

Several special juried awards also will be handed out at the Annie Awards ceremony on Feb. 5 at UCLA's Royce Hall. Brad Bird, Eric Goldberg and Matt Groening will receive the Winsor McCay Award; Ross Iwamoto, the June Foray and Autodesk get the Ub Iwerks Award. The special achievement award went to the Disney documentary  "Waking Sleeping Beauty."

For a complete list of nominees go to http://www.annieawards.org.

-- Susan King

Image: "How to Train Your Dragon." Credit: DreamWorks Animation



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