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Oscar Tour Wraps Up at Sony and CAA

When it came time for the Q&A, many of the Sony artists had some of the same questions as the other studios like whether Geza Toth’s single camera move was intended from the start, which it was, and how Roger and Don Hahn convinced Disney to go with the sad ending on Little Matchgirl, which was by waiting until Michael Eisner had left the studio.

Don Hahn answers a question about Little Matchgirl at Sony. © AWN Inc.

Don Hahn answers a question about Little Matchgirl at Sony. © AWN Inc.

The second and final Friday of the Oscar Showcase tour began with a screening at Sony Animation. In an effort to get up a new photo gallery before I left, I didn’t leave enough time to get to screening, only making my journey a chore. I ended up arriving just as The Danish Poet was ending. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I’m sick of the films after seeing them so many times in a short span of time, but a trial separation might be good. Roger Allers said he can’t watch Little Matchgirl anymore. Like No Time for Nuts directors Mike Thurmeier and Chris Renaud, he keeps seeing things he wishes that he could change.

When it came time for the Q&A, many of the Sony artists had some of the same questions as the other studios like whether Geza Toth’s single camera move was intended from the start, which it was, and how Roger and Don Hahn convinced Disney to go with the sad ending on Little Matchgirl, which was by waiting until Michael Eisner had left the studio. There was a question about how the co-production between Canada and Norway worked out on The Danish Poet. The producers Marcy and Lise said it worked out wonderfully. Lise joked that it’s perfect because Canada thinks director Torill Kove is Canadian and Norway knows that she is Norwegian. Marcy added that the co-production on Torill’s first short My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts helped launch a co-production treaty between the two countries. That first film’s Oscar nomination was a sensation in Norway with the king actually seeing the film. The hoopla around that film made it easier to find funding for The Danish Poet.

Sony's David Schaub gets to discuss current projects with Blur Sky's Chris Renaud. © AWN Inc.

Sony's David Schaub gets to discuss current projects with Blur Sky's Chris Renaud. © AWN Inc.

Another artist asked what was the motivation for making another Scrat short. Chris said it was partly to keep the Ice Age franchise going, but when the idea of doing a short for the DVD was opened freely to the artists most of the pitches were Scrat stories anyway. Chris then answered a question about the sound on No Time for Nuts, which was mixed and edited by Sean Garnhart, who worked on the original Ice Age and Robots. Chris complimented the talent of the sound artist and said that the initial pass of the sound mix was done in Sean’s home studio in New Jersey. Then someone asked Geza who did the music for Maestro and he said Attila Pacsay. Ron joked that you go to Hungary and you can meet people named Attila. The last question was about the new shorts being done at Disney. Don said that the 2D Goofy short is a way to ramp up for the upcoming 2D feature The Frog Princess. Don went on to say that at the time they were making Matchgirl, they thought it was going to be the last 2D project at Disney. “A tragic depressing story on top of a tragic depressing story,” Don added, getting a chuckle from the crowd.

After the Q&A, we were invited to another nice lunch. Barry Weiss, senior vice president of Animation Production, gave everyone a warm welcome and congratulated the nominees, saying that it was an honor to have everyone come and visit Sony. I sat with Chris Renaud, Ron and David Schaub, who was animation supervisor on Polar Express and is serving as directing animator on Surf’s Up. Chris told David that he was really impressed with the look and feel of Surf’s Up, which uses a new camera system that provides virtual cinematography capabilities. David actually said that animation was going to wrap on that day. We asked him about Beowulf, which he told us is really pushing the cutting edge of performance capture and photoreal CG. And I can say that after seeing the fully rendered characters during the tour, I would have to agree with him. Additionally, David said that Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs recently made a big story breakthrough and might be coming out sooner than originally anticipated. We were impressed with how artists at Sony have the flexibility to move from projects at Sony Pictures Animation to visual effects projects at Sony Imageworks.

David had questions for Chris about Horton Hears a Who. David was very complimentary of the look that Blue Sky created for the Dr. Seuss inspired project. Chris added that gaining Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel’s widow, Audrey, confidence in the project was tough at first, because she was not satisfied with the live-action The Cat in the Hat. In regards to the story, Chris said that he learned that the original intent of the book was to illustrate how the Japanese should be treated after WWII and he feels that the message still retains its poignancy. Ron then asked Chris about the story process at Blue Sky. Chris told us that it depends on the project. Some projects have had members of the story team taking passes on various scenes as the overall story is being worked out. But the new project Chris Wedge is working on has a fully completed script, which is being worked off of. Chris saids it’s mainly the preference of the director. For him, he likes to move from storyboard to editorial quicker than other directors who like to board out scenes in more detail. Both Chris and David said that projects that don’t have their theme worked out completely beforehand typically have the most problems.

Kajsa Naess, Lise Fearnley, Geza Toth and Chris Renaud check out some artwork from Sony's Surf's Up. © AWN Inc.

Kajsa Naess, Lise Fearnley, Geza Toth and Chris Renaud check out some artwork from Sony's Surf's Up. © AWN Inc.

Following lunch, Sony handed out generous gift bags to all of us. Then we headed out for the studio tour. In the lobby of the animation building, we checked out designs for Surf’s Up. Roger was happy to run into fellow Open Season director Tony Stacchi, who was not allowed to show us some recent storyboards from his next project Hotel Transylvania. Don Levy, senior vice president of marketing and communications, met up with us and took us around the studio, seeing where the animators work. It was nice to be able to peek in at the animators at work finishing up Surf’s Up. Don actually took us into the inter-sanctum of the machine room where the serious computing power is stored to make a CG feature a reality. Along our tour, we bumped into Oscar nominated Richard Hoover, who garnered his Academy Award nod for visual effects on Superman Returns.

Oscar nominees Roger Allers, Geza Toth, Richard Hoover and Chris Renaud. © AWN Inc.

Oscar nominees Roger Allers, Geza Toth, Richard Hoover and Chris Renaud. © AWN Inc.

After Sony, the nominees headed over to Creative Artists Agency (aka CAA) for the final screening on the 2007 Oscar Showcase tour. The screening at ICM was the first in their new screening room while the screening at CAA was the second at their new home on the Avenue of the Stars. When I was talking with Roger and Chris before the screening, it was interesting how I felt the William Morris screening went better than ICM because the agents at William Morris seemed to have more questions after the screenings. However, Roger felt the ICM screening went better because the agents spent more time mingling with the filmmakers after the screening. It goes to show that two people at the same event can have completely different reactions to something due to their perspective.

CAA’s John Levin introduced the screening and shared with the audience that when he was younger he had the desire to go become an animator and that it was his pleasure to have the nominees there for the screening. The first question was about distribution. The next question was about Little Matchgirl’s initial intent to be included in a world music Fantasia. Don Hahn said that Matchgirl was supposed to be the sad close to act two before the big celebratory ending. The next question was a general one about the state of animation, making the observation that there seems to be more animation today than ever before. Roger said that it was great that animators from all around the world are getting their projects seen. John asked if shorts are making their way back in front of features and Roger said that it was rare, except for Pixar who will be putting Lifted in front of Ratatouille. Lise added that in Norway shorts still do play in theaters before features, which Roger was happy to hear. The final question was about what people are working on next. In closing, John Levin again thanked the nominees for coming to share their films and hoped they will bring their next projects for a screening.

After the CAA screening, Geza Toth (right) gets a chance to chat with Chris Paine, the director of the documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car? © AWN Inc.

After the CAA screening, Geza Toth (right) gets a chance to chat with Chris Paine, the director of the documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car? © AWN Inc.

That ended the screenings, but nominees still had another day of events before the big night. On Saturday, DreamWorks held an industry brunch and the Chocolate Oscar was a wonderful intimate event for the nominees and others in the industry to celebrate animated shorts. Check back for pics and thoughts from those events.