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Backstage at the Oscars

Pete Docter positively beamed about winning his Best Animated Feature Oscar for UP, and discussed the advantage of animation over live-action, the significance of AVATAR and what 3-D offers...

Pete Docter positively beamed about winning his Best Animated Feature Oscar for UP, and discussed the advantage of animation over live-action, the significance of AVATAR and what 3-D offers:

"I think for me there's a level of abstraction that is involved that, because it's not real actors on the screen, because they're designed and they're character that simplifies it, it allows the audience to kind of project a little bit of themselves in that character in a way that they might not for Tom Cruise or, you know, whoever.  And plus, I think there is something about our process… allowing ourselves the visual side of the artist to express that as well…

"I think AVATAR is definitely changing things regardless of the awards. It's just as we move forward it seems as though the line between animation and real life is getting blurrier and blurrier. And I think as time goes on that technology becomes cheaper and more accessible, you just see more of that out there. But, no matter what technology comes new into the fray, it's always all about storytelling and characters and that's why good writers and directors will always be and actors will always be in need…

"I think 3-D can be a gimmick or it can be legitimate just like anything else. For us, it's is a tool in which to amplify and tell the story. So if you've seen UP in 3-D, the scenes where Carl, say, is very depressed or alone, we purposefully made that flat when he floats up into the sky and takes off. And you want majestic and uplifting, we really stretched out the depth, so we tried to reflect what the main character is feeling just like you would with lighting or cinematography or music or any other of the tools…"

Meanwhile, LOGORAMA producer Nicolas Schmerkin spoke on behalf of the directing trio that has since split up (Francois Alaux, Hervé de Crécy and H5 co-founder Ludovic Houplain) about the audacious Oscar-winning short:

"…I think it was for them very cathartic being able to play with the logos," he told AWN/VFXWORLD. After working with them for so many years it was like freedom for them. In terms of directing and technically and artistically, I mean, they are very mature .It looked like they already had done so many films even if this was their first short film, their first personal film, but they were very professional and it was very easy to work with them. They shared some tasks, some doing more about preparing story board and gathering the logos. The other one was more about doing the animatic and building the film, the editing and one was supervising the animation. And so they were complementary. And when you work with many people, and especially many directors, sometimes they don't agree. In the end, I think the film is very great, and they did a really great job. And I have to say it took longer than AVATAR. It took more directors than AVATAR."

When asked about potential licensing problems, Schmerkin replied:  I hope that this little man [Oscar] will protect me from everything that could come, but… so far nothing really happened. At least we received some e mails from brands that were happy to be in it. For instance, like two weeks ago we received a very nice e- mail from the Los Angeles Zoo. They were really happy to be in the film… Basically, I think it would not be good for them to do something bad to us -- and to him. But I have to say that I would like to share also this award with my lawyer.  He became like my best friend."

With regard to the big VFX AVATAR victory and any sort of post completion blues, Joe Letteri, speaking on behalf of Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R. Jones, said, "I actually just tried to allude to that earlier in my speech. What we did with AVATAR, if you really look at it, we took things that are out there in the world every day: we just made them bigger, shinier, put them together in new ways. But all our inspiration comes from the real world. So if you really look, you can see all those things around you, and I would just encourage people to get out and look for it."

Finally, Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg and Kim Sinclair discussed the significance of AVATAR winning the Oscar for art direction: "I felt that I've been on a journey and I think one of the reasons that this movie went to where it went is because of the collaboration and it's something that I've always valued," Carter told AWN/VFXWorld. "So when I look to the future, I'm looking for more collaboration with tremendous artists who have vision and that also are willing to understand what they don't know. None of us knew, and that's, I think, something that Jim understood about us and we were all willing to jump in there."

Stromberg elaborated on overcoming a life-threatening illness 13 years ago: …"I haven't even talked about it to these guys. But it's a personal experience and, yeah, it was a bout with something that was ready to kill me and it was really bad. And out of that, I told myself that I would spend whatever time I had here doing something or trying to do something profound, worthwhile, something else. So from that point to tonight is a journey that I can't explain to anybody. I'm the luckiest guy on the planet. This award to me is actually me understanding that I'm alive, and it's very special."

Stromberg, who also transitioned from visual effects to art direction (he went from AVATAR to ALICE IN WONDERLAND), added, "… We're creating new tools to allow the next generation of filmmakers to do anything they want. I think it's important for any production designer to understand the visual effects side of things: the new technology, the traditional elements. I think it's just another tool in the toolbox, but it's a tool that can open up the world to new creative ideas."

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Bill Desowitz, former editor of VFXWorld, is currently the Crafts Editor of IndieWire.