Celebrating Animation from Its Beginnings

Courtesy Disney-Pixar

For the next five weeks the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be spotlighting animation in a series that stretches from the form’s early beginnings to one of this summer’s most eagerly awaited releases.

An Animation Showcase: From Celluloid to CGI will take viewers from trick films made at the turn of the twentieth century by J. Stuart Blackton to a sneak-peek screening of Inside Out.

“This celebration of animation is really just the beginning of what I hope will be an ongoing series on filmmaking crafts,” according to Patrick Harrison, the Academy’s Director of New York Programs and Membership. “The Academy gives out awards in 24 categories of filmmaking. We have an opportunity to educate both the audience and filmmakers about these crafts, and animation felt like the right place to begin.”

When he met with Academy experts about what to include in the series, Harrison at first felt overwhelmed. “We could easily spend a year on animation, how it’s used not just in film but in television, advertising, the Internet, video games. And animators come from so many different backgrounds and disciplines. So we decided to focus on three main areas: drawing by hand, stop-motion, and CGI.”

Courtesy LAIKA, Inc.

Three of the biggest animation studios are contributing to the series: LAIKA, Blue Sky, and Disney/Pixar. “The LAIKA people are experts in stop motion, with Coraline, ParaNorman, last year’s The Boxtrolls. Who are these guys? They’re not Hollywood, they’re up in Oregon. Who makes movies in Oregon?” Harrison jokes.

Blue Sky’s releases include the Ice Age and Rio series. “They are our New York animation studio,” Harrison says. “You can’t have a New York event at the Academy without having Blue Sky.”

Pixar’s successes start with the Toy Story franchise and include such beloved hits as Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc. After the Inside Out sneak peek on May 29, director Pete Docter (Up) and producer Jonas Rivera will share behind-the-scenes details about the movie.

But Harrison points out that the series has a deeper purpose than to publicize current releases.

“We wanted all three studios to understand that the conversation here may be a little more technical than what you normally get in a typical Q&A session. We’re trying to educate the audience. And me! One of my favorite scenes in Up is when the house is lifted by balloons. The shadows, the reflection of the sun on the balloons and the building, all the movement, it was an incredible scene. So how do you do that? What exactly is involved?”

The series opens April 24 with The Nuts and Bolts of Stop Motion: Artistry and Ingenuity of LAIKA. Attending will be Creative Supervisor of Puppet Fabrication Georgina Hayns, Director of Rapid Prototype Brian McLean, and VFX supervisor Steve Emerson.

Courtesy Disney.

On May 9, the Academy celebrates the 75th anniversary of Pinocchio with a screening of what remains one of Walt Disney’s finest features. Somewhat overlooked relative to Fantasia (which was released the same year), Pinocchio includes some of the studio’s most memorable characters and animated sequences. The score Leigh Harline and Ned Washington gave Disney his unofficial theme song, “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Film historian J.B. Kaufman, author of Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic, will introduce the screening.

May 12 is devoted to explaining CGI through the work of Blue Sky. Anatomy of an Animation Studio will include directors Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha, producer John Donkin, and art director Tom Cardone. Using clips and storyboards, they will show how movies like Robots evolve from concept to screen.

On May 19, film historian Tom Stathes will introduce The History of Silent and Early Sound New York Animation, an overview of the cartoon industry before Hollywood. Along with familiar names like the Fleischer brothers, Walter Lantz, and Paul Terry, Stathes will screen work by animation pioneers Winsor McCay and J.R. Bray.

From A Fitting Gift. Courtesy the Stathes Collection.

“You can’t cover the entire art form in a month,” Harrison notes. “But I hope you will come away from this series with a good overview, a sense of the history of animation — where we stand, where we’re headed. We want the Academy to be a part of that conversation.”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences schedules membership screenings, and recently concluded this year’s “Monday Nights with Oscar” program, which showcases prints from the Academy Film Archive and Q&A sessions with filmmakers. That series will continue in the fall.

Most screenings will take place at The Academy Theater, 111 East 59th Street, New York, NY 10022. Tickets — $5 general public/$3 for members — are available on Oscars.org or at the box office 30 minutes before show begins.

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