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Oscar For Animated Feature To Be Given In 2002

On Tuesday, September 26, 2000, the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences established a new Oscar awards category for best animated feature. The first award could be presented as early as the 74th Annual Academy Awards in March 2002. The category will exist only in years that have eight or more films deemed eligible for the category. To be eligible, an animated feature must be at least 70 minutes in length, "primarily animated" and meet the other general requirements for feature film eligibility. The overseeing committee will develop criteria for the definition of "primarily animated" in the upcoming months. In years with eight or more animated features, three films will be nominated and if there are eight to fifteen releases then there will be a maximum of five nominees. A recommendation on whether or not to activate the category in any given year will be made by the executive committee of the short films and feature animation branch. If eight or more films are found to be eligible, the committee may choose to recommend to the board of governors that there be an animated feature award given for that year. If the governors accept the committee's recommendation, the nomination process will be set in motion. A screening committee will determine the nominated films, and then all Academy members worldwide will vote for the Oscar winner. The statuette will be given to "the key creative talent most clearly responsible for the overall achievement." Films could use cel animation, computer animation, stop-motion or other recognized animation techniques. Films that are submitted in the best animated feature category would still be eligible in other categories including best picture. The category has been a much-debated topic in the toon world for years. Its supporters say that great work in animation should be recognized by the Academy, while its naysayers insist that a best animated feature category solidifies animations place as a lesser art to live-action films. The animated feature category would thus insure that no animated feature would ever win best picture because they have their own category much like foreign language films. However, with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST as the only animated film to ever be nominated for best picture, supporters say that some recognition is better than none. Legendary voice actor and champion of animation June Foray serves as chairman of the Academys shorts and animation division and told AWN that she is "jubilant" about the decision. Foray said that longtime animator Bill Littlejohn has been the first and foremost crusader to get an animated category. For years, the Academy said that there werent enough animated films released in a single year to warrant a category. However, Foray said, "It use to be just Disney, but now you have Warner Bros., DreamWorks, Aardman and studios from all around the world releasing films." Tom Sito, president of Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists, Local 839 and director of OSMOSIS JONES which will be eligible for the first animated feature Oscar, said the decision is "wonderful. Its about high time. The Academy is finally acknowledging animations contributions to common cinematic history. With the 100th anniversary of animation this year, what a wonderful birthday present." Animation historian Jerry Beck said, "Its about time. As great as [the 1999 Oscar award winning short animated film] THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA was no ones seen it. In the same year TOY STORY 2 and the IRON GIANT were not given any recognition." Beck went on to say that the category would give Hollywood a new goal the chance to place another Oscar on their mantel. In addition, it opens the door for more distribution opportunities for independent and foreign features. Now companies may be more willing to buy films and release them just to have the chance to win an Oscar. The main point that will heat up the issue is what will constitute a "primarily animated" feature. Sito thought the definition should be: "Any film thats more than 50% visual effects or animated or if they have a major character thats animated." However, Beck said he would consider THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY & BULLWINKLE animated because it has two central characters that are toons and started and ended with animated segments (it has an animated environment). But he considers STUART LITTLE and 1995s CASPER not animated, rather they are live-action films featuring digital effects. Nonetheless the final criteria will be up to the Academys board. Foray said she would be part of the committee that will write the rules, and told AWN that she doesnt feel that even the ROCKY & BULLWINKLE feature (in which she voiced the character Rocky) should be considered an animated feature. For sure, no matter what the final rules are, they will be debated for years to come as the very nature and limits of animation are expanded due to improvements in technology and their creative use in execution.

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Rick DeMott
Animation World Network
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