The cover of the event program
Yet another very special night at the Academy's Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills! After viewing a pair of opening taped featurettes, Shorts! (the animated &live action short film nominees) and Docs! (the short subject & documentary feature nominees) hosted by directors Martha Coolidge and Kenneth Branagh respectively, the main event began. Host Tom Sito took the opportunity to have the audience applaud a great year in animated films including Disney's 'Tangled' and Universal's 'Despicable Me' in particular.The directors of the nominated Animated Feature Films then took the stage, alphabetically by film.
After viewing the Hiccup meets Toothless scene Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois spoke at length about how they came on board the film already in development at DreamWorks Animation. Jeffrey Katzenberg called Sanders at home, who in turn called DeBlois with the opportunity to take over the film finished at about 60%. The pair eneded up reworking the film entirely, from dragon designs to overall script revision. They lavished praise on their visual effects team in particular along with Head of Character Animation Simon Otto and their producer Bonnie Arnold. Arnold also produced 'Toy Story'.
The director of 'The Illusionist' Sylvain Chomet was not able to attend as he was still in France. The extended scenes from his film that were shown were very impressive and well received.
'Toy Story 3' director Lee Unkrich followed and was accompanied by his constant companion *, Big Baby. He shared the story of his journey from USC film student to editor to 16 Pixar veteran. He mentioned that his wife had pointed out to him that the last time he was in the same room was 20 years earlier for the student Academy Awards program! He spoke about the studio's approach to creating a strong enough idea for another 'Toy Story' film, about the 2-day cabin retreat with John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter to hammer out the story and about the tremendous pressure he felt from the beginning "not to screw up!" After showing his final clip, the last 10 minutes of the film, he shared with us the personal story about visiting his grandmother for the last time before her death as the emotional inspiration for the last look back Andy gives the toys on Bonnie's porch. He pointed out that obviously people around the world that have seen the film don't know that story but he and the animators at Pixar know it as part of the genuine human fabric woven into a CGI animated film.
All the director then took the stage with Sito to answer various questions from the audience and stayed to sign all manner of memorabilia afterwards. As always the audience was packed with animators, industry insiders, students and animated film fans.
I had the chance to chat with DreamWorks' Simon Otto about his work on 'Dragon' as well as a number of their previous and upcoming releases. He told me that the success of the film has really cracked things open there, allowing them to push further, "go to the next level with the artistry and technology". He said that the work being done on Chris Sanders' 'The Croods', the sequel to 'Dragon', the recently announced, 'Me and My Shadow' and a few more films in development is unlike anything that has been done with animation before.
Chris Sanders told me that he continues to be floored by the work being done by his 'Croods' crew and he hopes that audiences have as good a time with it next year in theatres as they are making it. I asked him about the big night this Sunday and he assured me he'll be looking sharp. He told me he bought a tux, his first, and that it'll be worn for only the second time at this year's Oscars! I exited the AMPAS lobby the same time as Chris so it was nice to be able to wish him luck, thank him again for his wonderful work and a terrific night.