Guess Whom the Nominees Ran Into at Disney & ICM?

Officially one week of the Oscar Tour is up and we’re nearing the home stretch. Today was less crazed than yesterday, but still wonderfully eventful nonetheless.

The Disney leg of the Oscar Tour poses for a pic in front of the studio. Courtesy of Disney.

The Disney leg of the Oscar Tour poses for a pic in front of the studio. Courtesy of Disney.

Officially one week of the Oscar Tour is up and we’re nearing the home stretch. Today was less crazed than yesterday, but still wonderfully eventful nonetheless. The day was a home coming for Roger and Don. Every time we turned a corner someone was ecstatic to see them. After Tenny Chonin, head of artistic development at Disney Features, introduced the screening, Don took us on a special tour of the old animation building across the street from the new animation complex (you know, the building with the big hat on it). On the way, even, someone crossing the street lit up when he saw Don and pleaded him to come back to work soon. He has been like the Zen master of the group. His peaceful nature is just unforgettable. I had thought before that it must be a pleasure to work for him and after today I think many of the Disney employees confirmed my feeling.

Ed Catmull and John Lasseter surprised to run into the Oscar nominees. © AWN Inc.

Ed Catmull and John Lasseter surprised to run into the Oscar nominees. © AWN Inc.

Right as Don got into the swing of his tour guide mode, he goes “and there’s John Lasseter and Ed Cutmall coming our way.” And sure enough everyone turns around and there is John and Ed. I think John was just as surprised to run into a crowd of Oscar nominees as we were to run into him. Ron introduced everyone to John and Ed. Having seen all the shorts, John was complimentary to all the nominees. Marcy has known John for years and he gave her a big hug when he saw her. Marcy reminisced about when back in the day John was her tour guide around Pixar. John asked about Frédéric Back and Marcy was sad to report that he isn’t doing well. His wife suffered a stroke recently and he was skin cancer. After each of the filmmakers had a chance to chat with John, he and Ed had to leave. Now that was a seriously awesome star sighting.

Oscar Tour poses at the corner of Dopey Drive & Mickey Lane. Roger Allers (l to r), Geza Toth, Marcy Page, Tamas Liszkas, Torill Kove, Lise Fearnley, Don Hahn, Chris Renaud, Katherine Sarafian, VFXWorld editor Bill Desowitz, Ron Diamond & AWN co-founder Dan Sarto. © AWN Inc.

Oscar Tour poses at the corner of Dopey Drive & Mickey Lane. Roger Allers (l to r), Geza Toth, Marcy Page, Tamas Liszkas, Torill Kove, Lise Fearnley, Don Hahn, Chris Renaud, Katherine Sarafian, VFXWorld editor Bill Desowitz, Ron Diamond & AWN co-founder Dan Sarto. © AWN Inc.

Don resumed the tour taking us into the old animation building. A tunnel runs underground connecting the animation building to the ink & paint building so that cels never had to be transported outside. Don also pointed out Walt Disney’s corner office. Throughout the building, there’s great artwork hung on the walls from the classic films. Don pointed to a beautiful Lion King background and commented that it was still hard for him to see projects he worked on at Disney up on the wall alongside classics like Snow White.

We made it back to the packed auditorium just as the final film was hitting the mid-point. Ron introduced the filmmakers and opened it up for questions. The audience asked similar questions about the inspiration for the shorts and distribution means. Marcy was very happy to share the fact that the Magnolia Pictures compilation film of the Oscar shorts that is playing in the U.S. finished 44th at the box office in its debut weekend. I went and looked up the stats — it’s playing on 38 screens and garnered a per screen average of $2,781, which is almost a $1,000 better than the 7th ranked film, Hannibal Rising, scored per screen.

Disney employees stood in line to get into the packed screening. © AWN Inc.

Disney employees stood in line to get into the packed screening. © AWN Inc.

The final question asked was what everyone is working on. Geza is working on a new 3D animated short, which will be completed later in the year. Chris is working on Horton Hears a Who. Torill isn’t finished with The Danish Poet; she’s working on a picture book based on the film. Marcy is producing shorts at the NFB with Chris Landreth, Chris Hinton and Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis. Lise Fearnley is working at the Norwegian Broadcast company as well as producing two additional shorts. Katherine Sarafian is producing Lifted director Gary Rydstrom’s next project. Roger is working on the book for a Broadway musical, titled Grasshopper. Don said he was working on changing the oil in his car this afternoon.

After the Q&A, we were again treated to a nice lunch. I joked with Lise that after the tour I’m really going to have to go back to the gym, because I’ve been fed so well. Ron encouraged everyone to sit by people they don’t know so that everyone could get more out of the experience. I’m glad he did, because I had a wonderful chance to chat with Lise. In Norway, The Danish Poet’s nomination is a big deal, because it’s only one of five or six nominations the country has ever received. And two of them have gone to Torill. However, Lise said that many of the Norwegian film fan sites were debating for months which Norwegian film would get an Oscar nod and when the Norwegian entry didn’t even make the Foreign Language category shortlist, they were writing off any Norwegian nods at all. It goes to show that all around the world shorts aren’t even on the radar. But it also shows how much an Oscar nomination sends them into orbit.

Everyone chats over lunch at Disney. But whose job is it to water the flower in the middle of the table? © AWN Inc.

Everyone chats over lunch at Disney. But whose job is it to water the flower in the middle of the table? © AWN Inc.

I asked Lise, “how big will it be in Norway, if Torill wins? Will they throw a parade and erect statues in her honor?” She laughed and said, “We hope so.” But she also made an interesting comment about he nature of fame and success in Norway. Norwegians, she said, seem to hate people who get too famous. Some very much rejected the idea of Liv Ullmann providing the voice over for the film. It’s surprising that in the States several people, including myself, couldn’t think of a better voice. Ullman’s tone and delivery matches Torill’s low-key, sardonic humor perfectly. As for distribution, she told me that in the main theater in Oslo, there is a free screening at 6 pm on weekends of short Norwegian productions. Additionally, studios in Norway still have the opportunity to distribute their films before feature films much like the U.S. in the 1940s. However, just like the States now, the theaters want shorter shorts around five minutes long so that they can fit in more screenings of the features in a day.

After we all finished eating, we were treated to a thorough tour of the new animation studio. Our tour guide Jay took us first into the new coffee lounge, which was proposed courtesy of John Lasseter as an area for the artists to gather, relax and communicate. Disney provides an extensive reference library for the artists to use for inspiration and a recording of the Oscar Showcase will be added to that collection. The building is set up to hold two full productions. Each production has its own pod. Currently, the studio is about to wrap on Meet the Robinsons and is gearing up to finish American Dog. The various pods are filled with artwork and style inspirations. American Dog has a very unique look unlike anything Disney has made in CG thus far. The style is inspired by the work of painter Edward Hopper. Some of the cinematic references that were posted include Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Thelma and Louise. The pods are also decorated in a similar style to that of the picture. The American Dog pod includes an authentic 1950s dinner and refrigerator.

Jay shows us the secret behind the star. © AWN Inc.

Jay shows us the secret behind the star. © AWN Inc.

Ever wonder what’s in the sorcerer’s apprentice’s hat, which tops the animation building at Disney? Well, originally it was Roy Disney’s office, however the curved, striped walls cause a feeling of vertigo. An interesting factoid about the room was that at the time it was built, Roy smoked and was going to be the only person allowed to smoke in the building. So a special air ventilation system was installed in the sorcerer hat bookshelf so that the smoke would be filtered outside. However, Roy quit smoking soon before moving into the office, which he only stayed in for two weeks anyway. Now the room is used as a conference room. And another secret factoid that Jay shared was that the middle star in the bookshelf actually pops out to provide access to the ventilation system, which was something no one knew about until someone investigated why the middle star was the only star on the bookshelf to have a dark border around it.

Next we ventured up to the third floor were development of future projects takes place. The first short we saw artwork from was the new 2D Goofy short, How To Install Your Home Theater, which will return Goofy to his popular “How To” shorts, which were popular in the ’40s and ’50s. The project is being co-directed by Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers. Katherine commented that she has seen the Goofy short at Pixar and promises that it’s hilarious. The next film was a CG short titled, Golgo’s Guest, where a Russian frontier guard meets a space alien. Chris Williams is doing double directing duty, juggling both Golgo’s and American Dog. The stark design style of Golgo’s matches the Siberian setting nicely. The design of the main character is wonderful as well. There’s a lived in look to the character’s face that I liked. We also saw two sketches from the two other shorts in development — The Ballad of Nessie, an origin story of the Loch Ness monster, and Prep and Landing, which has two hapless elves wreck havoc on a house in preparation for Santa’s arrival. Jay told us that John Lasseter likes the Prep and Landing idea so much that he’s considering turning into an ABC Christmas special. Last, but not least, we were able to gaze upon the character and production designs for Glen Keane’s Rapunzel. Keeping true to the original fairy tale, the look of the film is like Victorian paintings coming to life. If the CG looks anything like what Tenny described to us, it’s going to be breathtaking.

Bob Broder, Henry Winkler and Ron Diamond talk in the lobby of ICM. © AWN Inc.

Bob Broder, Henry Winkler and Ron Diamond talk in the lobby of ICM. © AWN Inc.

With the tour coming to a close, the nominees were appreciative of being given the chance to see things that others do not get to see. We had to say good-bye to Katherine who was hopping into a cab to head back to Pixar while the rest of the group was headed to the agency ICM. No Time for Nuts producer Lori, who works around the corner from ICM at Fox, joined us for the second screening of the day. Robert Lazar greeted us and told us that the screening was the first in their new swank screening room. Attending the screening was ICM vice chairman Bob Broder, who had warm congratulations for all. The shorts went over pretty well. Afterward, the agents mingled with the nominees, chatting with the filmmakers of their favorite shorts. And the nominees were treated to a second surprise celebrity sighting of the day when Henry Winkler came into the lobby to talk to Bob Broder.

That closed another filled day on the Oscar Showcase tour. Tomorrow, I’ll be accompanying Ron to an NFB luncheon at the Canadian consulate, followed by a screening of the shorts at the William Morris agency. Check back soon for new updated pictures in this post as well as a new photo gallery with some great pictures from DreamWorks, the Academy screening and Disney as well as Mike’s beautiful baby girl.