Monday, February 28, 2011

John Lasseter wins lifetime achievement award

John Lasseter's pair of Oscars has a new friend: a lifetime achievement trophy. The Pixar and Disney animation chief received the award Friday night for his devotion to the 40-minutes-or-less average from Shorts International, an entertainment organization which endorses, distributes, broadcasts and creates short films.

"It feels incredible because I love short films," said Lasseter. "I love the art form and what it did for me as a filmmaker. I learnt so much from making short films. They're these little gems, these unbelievable little ideas that are not meant to be a feature film. They're ideal unto themselves. A great short film leaves you smiling and thinking about it."

Lasseter won the animated short film Oscar in 1988 for "Tin Toy," as well as a particular achievement award in 1995 for "Toy Story," the primary feature-length computer-generated film. The lifetime achievement award from Shorts International may not be his only prize this weekend. He's nominated with the other "Toy Story 3" filmmakers for best modified script.

"Toy Story 3" is also rivaling in the sound editing, original song, animated feature and best picture categories. Lasseter is hopeful about its chances for the top prize, even though the motion picture academy has never gave an animated film with the best picture honor. "Toy Story 3" is only the third animated film to be nominated in that category.

"I do consider we will one day see an animated film win the best picture Oscar, and I hope it's on Sunday," said Lasseter. "I think that over time, more and more of Hollywood and the Academy have gotten to know animation. It's precisely the same as live action filmmaking. We tell great stories. We use great actors. We just use a dissimilar camera."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

'Let's Pollute' proves that small budget is no Oscar obstruction

Not all Oscar-nominated films cost big bucks. Geefwee Boedoe made one for less than $15,000 in his home studio and a friend's garage, writing his own tinkles and asking his wife to sing.

"I didn't really have a budget, so I didn't pay myself," says Boedoe, maker of the six-minute animated film Let's Pollute, a social send-up about U.S. consumption and its environmental destruction. He started working on the film more than three years ago, taking breaks only so he could do self-employed work to pay the bills.

A former Pixar animator, Boedoe wrote, directed and animated the film himself. He teamed up with a tiny post-production crew, including co-producer Joel Bloom, to edit the final version in Bloom's garage.

"This is all new," he says about the pre-Oscar buzz and Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony. He has never been to the Oscars, so for the occasion, he bought a 1960s black-tie-like outfit at a era shop in San Francisco, where he lives.

"Hopefully, they'll let me in," he says with a chuckle.

He sees his proposal as a sort of David and Goliath battle waged with pencils and computers. He says his four competitors in the best-animated-short category had much bigger budgets.

Pixar's nominee, Day & Night, available for purchase on iTunes, was shown to many audiences before the Disney-Pixar box office hit Toy Story 3. Two of the three foreign productions, The Gruffalo and The Lost Thing, are based on popular children's books, and the French offering, Madagascar, carnet de voyage, was backed by a production company.

He says his satire, animated in the style of 1950s educational films, has won awards at several regional film festivals, but not many Americans have seen it. He says those who have seem to either love or hate it.

"Pollution is our heritage and keeps our economy going strong," the narrator says, tongue-in-cheek, as he follows an American family doing its unhelpful best to keep up with the Joneses.

Boedoe says the best part of an Oscar nomination is having more people see his film. Since every academy member who votes for a winner in the group has to watch each candidate, he says: "I think I have a shot at winning."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ottawa animation fest's best delivers diverse cartoon party

IT'S not a good sign when an animator fails to close a film festival entry, desperately submits a roughly cobbled-together one-minute doo-dad titled Sorry Film Not Ready, and it still manages to get included on the annual best-of collection.

Auspiciously, the program of a dozen animated shorts culled from the 2010 Ottawa International Animation Festival does contain films of more work-intensive value. None of the films are on the list of this year's Oscar candidates either, but one film from last year's festival Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage is a 2010 Oscar nominee, so most probably some of the films on this year's program may be chosen for 2011.

My individual picks from the 14:

-- Little Deaths, an erotic doc-toon by Ruth Lingford, offers up some sumptuous, occasionally abstract images over the voices of various people effecting to explain what orgasm feels like.

-- Midtown Twist is a deftly satiric, jazzy representation of Manhattan commerce from animator Gary Leib.

-- Angry Man, from Norway, is a moving but frightening short employing storybook-like cut-outs to depict a little boy's fear and confusion at the spectacle of his father's violent rages. A dog and a flock of strange birds compel him to reveal shameful family secrets, and free his family from the oppression of bad temper.

-- Love & Theft, a German work by Andreas Hykade, is an elegant vision (if such a thing is possible) in which one cartoon face morphs into another. The "theft" in the title may refer to faces that look something like copyright-protected figures such as Micky Mouse, Donald Duck, Betty Boop, Spider-Man and Spongebob Squarepants morphing into Karl Marx and Hitler, among many, many others. This is simple (but subversive) animation at its best.

-- The External World from David O'Reilly is a grand prize-winning, retro-computer animation featuring a assortment of pretty hilarious sight gags incorporating prehistoric video-game imagery, bloody slapstick and just plain rude behavior.

The Best of the Ottawa International Animation Festival plays at Cinematheque until Thursday, Feb. 24.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Gnomeo & Juliet – review

This animated movie, produced by Elton John and David Furnish, retells the tale of Romeo and Juliet through the rising clash between the blue and red gnomes in the gardens of next-door houses busy by the Montague and Capulet families in a London suburban terrace. The voices are provided by leading British actors ranging from Jason Statham as Tybalt to Patrick Stewart as Shakespeare. A lot of consideration, love and hard work has gone into this picture, and it even has a happy ending, though what Shakespeare himself sees, to his obvious pleasure, is an atomic mushroom in the far coldness.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

How To Train Your Dragon leads Annie awards

Oscar-nominated cartoon How To Train Your Dragon has won 10 prizes at the Annie awards for animation in the US. The Dreamworks movie won best animated characteristic, animated effects and best direction awards in the middle of its haul at the Los Angeles ceremony.

Other winners at the gala built-in SpongeBob Square pants for best children's animation. Toy Story 3 and The Illusionist are also in the running for best animated characteristic at the Academy Awards.

At Saturday night's awards, Despicable Me and Tangled were also built-in in the five-strong shortlist for best animated feature. How To Train Your Dragon also triumphed in the writing groups. Jay Baruchel took a voice acting award for his role of Hiccup in the animation, beating Cameron Diaz, Geoffrey Rush, Gerard Butler and Steve Carrell in the groups.

Butler was also nominated for his work in the film, voicing the character Stoick. Last year's Annie award winner for best animated feature was Up, which went on to secure the Oscar.