The Oscars are Coming!

Wendy Jackson reports on new animation music, video and book releases.

Excerpt from Timothy Hittle's Canhead. © T. Hittle.

Excerpt from Richard Condie's La Salla. © National Film Board of Canada.

Excerpt from Peter Lord's Wat's Pig. © Aardman

On March 24, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will put on its annual Academy Awards presentation. If you're like me, you'll be watching long-winded speeches and expensive commercials all night, just waiting for that fleeting moment of glory when the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film is presented. For that brief couple of minutes, millions of people catch a glimpse of what you and I already know is one of the greatest art forms; animation. With three of this year's nominees done in stop-motion, and one with computer, this year's slate is proof positive that the art form is alive, well, and being used in very creative ways by independents around the world. Here's a look at this year's nominees; read the synopsis' and director's statements, download the movie clips, then express yourself by voting for your favorite film in the first ever "Animation World Magazine's Un-Official Oscar Race!"

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Timothy Hittle's Canhead Timothy Hittle.

Canhead by Timothy Hittle "Canhead took nearly three years to see completion, and all along the way it was a labor of love. A small dedicated crew gave their time and talents to the project, wanting to make something beautiful. What is great about stop-motion filmmaking is pulling all the parts together: the movement, the sound, the music and every last thing. We build the world from the ground up. And in these days, when so much is going digital, it is a sweet pleasure to have Canhead stomping around out there, all wood and metal and clay. I am lucky to have been able to work together with people who love their craft the way that I do. It is glorious to have this film be nominated for an Oscar. I get the feeling that anything is possible."

--Timothy Hittle

First introduced in Hittle's 1991 short The Potato Hunter, main characters Jay Clay and Blue the dog are back again in Canhead, another clay animated film by the San Francisco-based animator. The film takes place on a seemingly endless table top, where Jay and Blue are stranded without food. When the two become separated, fear and worry bring about Canhead, a ferocious metal giant set for destruction. Jay faces his foe in a battle, and turns the situation around to reunite him with his lost dog, Blue.

Tim Hittle is currently working at Pixar.

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Richard Condie's La Salla. Richard Condie.

La Salla by Richard Condie "I found out about the nomination on the Internet. I woke up at exactly 8:30 and logged on to www.oscar.com . . .with a shaking hand on the mouse, I scrolled down the page. Then the phone just started ringing and ringing, and it didn't stop until 11:30 at night."

--Richard Condie

La Salla is Richard Condie's first film produced in 3-D computer animation, and his second Oscar nomination in this category (the first was for The Big Snit in 1986). Produced by Condie and Ches Yetman for the National Film Board of Canada, it is an eight minute comic opera, examining what happens when we try to become masters of our own destiny. Softimage developed the software used to create this film.

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Tyron Montgomery and Thomas Stellmach's Quest.

Quest by Tyron Montgomery "I heard about the nomination via a radio station on Tuesday night while I was working at Kassel University. After all the long and hard work on the film, this was a recognition that broke the tension, and which may change my life from one moment to the other. There was suddenly a great rush by the media. Images of the future are going through my head. Nervousness, even panic and fear followed. How will life go on? Will the next steps be the right ones? For the German public and media, the Academy Awards have become more and more important. There is much more interest in the nomination of Quest than there was seven years ago when the German Oscar winner, Balance was in the competition. Many people in Germany look forward to the ceremony on March 24. There is a lot of tension. Until then, I am trying to work on my diploma film which will be a cel animation."

--Thomas Stellmach, producer

Co-created by Thomas Stellmach, and an animator who goes by the name of Tyron Montgomery, Quest is a mixed-media, stop motion film which uses materials not commonly used in animation. In a quest for water, a sand puppet leaves the sand world in which it lives. It wanders through other worlds made of paper, stone and iron, following the sound of dripping water. In the end, the sand puppet manages to reach the water . . . in a very tragic way.

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Peter Lord'sWat's Pig.

Wat's Pig by Peter Lord Produced for Channel Four by Aardman Animations, the British studio that took home this award last year, and two years before that, and two years before that,Wat's Pig marks the company's sixth Oscar nomination in this category. Shot in clay animation, using a split-screen technique, the film gives new meaning to the term "parallel editing," by literally presenting both sides of the story at the same time.

The film tells the tale of two brothers separated at birth, who live as neighbors, never knowing of each other's existence. In a castle on the hill, one lives as a powerful and wealthy earl. Meanwhile, his brother Wat, who has been raised since childhood by a friendly pig, scrapes together a living in his humble hovel. When a nearby baron threatens the earl with war, fate unexpectedly brings these two lives together again.

The author would like to thank everyone who made this report possible.

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