March '09





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Imagine you're an Oscar, standing there all shiny and naked next to a dozen or so other Oscars waiting to be handed out on THE BIG NIGHT.   You were cast from the same mold as the other Oscars, but you're not like the others.  While some are going home with rich and famous people to be displayed in a rich and famous mansion to be adored by rich and famous friends of the rich and famous, YOU are going home with an animator.

Then what?  

What does an Oscar do for a career of an animator?

Ralph Eggleston won for his short "For the Birds".

Ralph:

WOW!   It was FUN.

I am so grateful I got to make a short film at Pixar.   While we had to maneuver in between various feature and commercial projects, our relatively small primary crew was intact for a majority of the production.   My short was only 2: 30 long, with about 50 shots, but we had about 40 animators on it over time.  That comes out to a shot per animator, with one of our early animators having done a few other shots.

By the home stretch of completion, I was pretty heavily involved in getting "Finding Nemo" on it's legs, so when Oscar time came around, I was very busy.

It was so great to be nominated, and even more fun to win.   I got to meet so many incredible filmmakers and travel quite a bit.   The night of the Oscars is kind of a blur, because so much happened. Thankfully, Pete Doctor's film "Monster's Inc." was nominated for the first "Best Feature Animation" award, so Pixar had a nice sized contingent at the awards ceremony.    I was plenty nervous when the show got to the Short Film categories, and TERRIFIED when they announced that I'd won!   I kept telling myself that the lights onstage would blind me enough so as not to let me see the crowds of people watching me onstage, but the house lights were on so as to be able to see EVERYONE.   I scanned the audience for John Lasseter's face (I knew roughly where he was sitting), and locked on it and was able to say my "Thank You's,"

I enjoyed the evening very much, but actually had to get back to Pixar   the next day to get back to work on "Finding Nemo."   There was a wonderful celebration of the win with the entire studio, and I shared the Oscar with virtually EVERYONE!

I got a lot of nice phone calls from some pretty big names in the business, offering congratulations and even job opportunities.   Lots of "meeting" offers and the like.   While I appreciated all of this very much, I really was having a blast on "Nemo," and had a lot of responsibilities ahead of me to complete the film.   Also, I'd worked at various other companies in my career, and while each one had it's pros and cons, they were usually run by people who knew and loved animation.   Many of the calls I got were from people who were trying to get projects going, but really didn't give me the impression they knew how incredibly difficult the process   of animation can be.  And anyway, I had a great job with people I like doing what I love to do...and at Pixar, no less!

People at work haven't treated me any differently, thank goodness.   Frankly, we were so busy on "Nemo" at the time I hardly had time to notice!   Friends outside of work took me to dinner to celebrate, and that was maybe the most fun and relaxing of all.

I'm very proud of the work we did on "For the Birds," and I'm happy it's been well received.   But in the end, I just want to get back to work on the next thing, whatever that might be!   But my Oscar is in a prominent place in my home, and I see it every day!

Though Dave Stone is not an animator, he has worked as sound editor on many animated films. He won the Oscar for Francis Ford Coppola's "Bram Stroker's Dracula".

Dave:

Winners often make that speech where they say that just getting the nomination is an honor. That's not bullshit, because the nominations come from the nominee's own specialty branch, so they know what criteria they're looking for. Nominations are a primary election, held by interested members who care about the public image of their own branch. That's a nice filter. Then the general election for the winners on the broadcast is really a crapshoot, as members do the final vote across all the branches.

For me, I sat with my competition - one of my oldest friends in the business, Mark Mangini, nominated for "Aladdin". John Lovitz presented our award. This is the big shock moment, when you're climbing the stairs to the stage, and especially weird if you're not a performer.

Some people ushered me downstairs and through a maze of backstage hallways. It was like the scenes in "Spinal Tap", where the boys get completely lost under the stage - you have no idea where you are.

There was a room full of reporters with laptops, sitting at little makeshift tables, everyone plugged into phone lines. Photos were shot. A few questions. They were finishing their stories about movie stars, and I was only a sound editor, still the brunt of bad jokes by the Oscar show writers.   Roger Ebert, I recall, never even looked up from what he was writing.

I'm not sure the award had much of a positive impact on my career. It's still a freelance free-for-all, and Oscars don't raise our prices down here below the line, as they do for actors and directors.

The business was very recessionary a few years later. I drove limos for a short time, between jobs. I believe I am the only person to have driven a limo to the Oscars for a nominee, while my own statuette sat at home.

"Beauty and the Beast" was nominated for Best Picture years before the Academy acknowledged animated features. Directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale reflect on the experience.  

Kirk:

Corny as it sounds, attending the Oscars was probably the biggest thrill of my life.   It gave me a teensy bit of leverage when it came time to renegotiate my contract at Disney, but it didn't take long for them to force me to exchange my newly acquired crown for the more traditional dunce cap preferred by management.   While it's still fun to be able to say that "Beauty" was the first and only animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture, alas, I don't have an actual trophy to show for it.   Flesh-eating cannibal killers trump dancing dinnerware every time.

In all honesty, I don't think it carries much weight now.   Memories are notoriously short in this town.   I think the studios always have a "What have you done LATELY" attitude.   If a movie is number one over the weekend, they stumble all over themselves trying to meet with the guy or gal who made it.   Or, if you're already working for them, they spend the next two weeks beating you over the head trying to convince you that your little animated movie needs to be more like "Wedding Crashers" or the "40-Year Old Virgin".   (This really happened, BTW)   Even during "Beauty", Jeffrey insisted that the entire story crew go see "Born On The Fourth of July" for reasons that are still unclear to me.

What's been really sobering for me lately is meeting with executives who, when the subject of "Beauty and the Beast" comes up, say, "I loved that movie when I was a kid."

Gary:

Since it was "only" nominated for best picture (as well as song, score, and sound...of which we won 2 ), was that Kirk and I weren't technically nominated. It was the producer Don Hahn who was nominated and therefore got the invitations and all. We had to fight (and I mean that as no exaggeration) for an invitation to the Oscars. Disney didn't see our contribution as significant enough to allow us to go, until Don raised a god-awful stink on our behalf. At the nominees' luncheon, Don took Kirk and I as guests (again...we weren't nominated, so we were non-people).

When we were passed over for best director nominations, there was virtually no word about it in the press because Barbara Streisand was also passed over for best director for "Prince of Tides", and the media was all over that. "HOW on Earth could a movie be nominated for best picture and NOT get a best director nod?? Poor Barbara!!" That was the standard media response...and not a word about the cartoon directors...EXCEPT on the Mark and Brian Show. They noticed, and I actually called in to their show and got to talk with them.

I tried to get into the Academy based on the fact that I had directed a best picture nominee and got the response "Well, were YOU nominated for best director?"

"No, but the movie I directed was just..."

"Then there's nothing we can do for you. Thank you." *click*

At the Oscars, Sally Fields and Bette Midler were introducing best picture, but instead took the opportunity to shit-talk us. Something about us not being a REAL movie with REAL actors. I bumped into Jesse Corti (voice of LeFou) on the way out, and he was incensed. "Who the fuck do those dumb bitches think Angela Lansbury is?? Or Jerry Orbach?? Jesus Christ!!"

I had to agree.

Supposedly, the Best Animated Feature category was created as a direct response to the fear that we caused in the Academy. They didn't want to take the chance that another cartoon might supplant or threaten "real movies" ever again. So we got the kid's table.

In the short term, it got Kirk and I the "Hunchback" gig, and Jeffery actually used us as bait to get Stephen Schwartz to sign on. "Stephen, I've got the directors of Beauty and the Beast already signed on and they're big fans who would love to work with you!" We hadn't signed at that point, and I didn't have any idea who Stephen Schwartz was. Oh well. We got a nice bonus, too.

Disney got a shot in the arm from Beauty...people looked at Disney like it was a real power again ("Roger Rabbit" and "Mermaid" certainly helped, too). The big Hat Building that Disney built for the Animation Department was reportedly as a direct result of the success and prestige of Beauty. And I got to ride in Roy Disney's jet.

Long term? I get invited to speak at art schools from time to time, and I imagine that studios are slightly less apt to want to fire me because of Beauty. It hasn't been a golden ticket, but I'm sure it has helped.

And then there's the King of FLIP, Steve Moore, writing about myself in the third person. Its gets confusing. He, me, was nominate for his - my short "Redux Riding Hood".

Steve:

The Disney brass had left me alone to create the short with my own vision . Armed only with Dan O'Shannon's hilarious original script, I was allowed to make it my way.

Ironically, after the nomination, I would never get another opportunity like that at Disney.   I was suddenly on the radar of middle management, upwardly mobile types, a new gauntlet of gatekeepers trying to force my hand on every little creative issue. The nomination had the exact opposite effect that I expected.   Disney Studios, in 1998, was truly Bizarro World. Six months after being nominated I was shown the door.

The Oscars itself was a surreal blur.    I felt like a wedding crasher.    I was there, but was I?    I think I'd like a do-over.     











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