Category added to awards slate on case-by-case basis

For the first new Oscar category in two decades, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences board of governors has created a separate category for animated features, for which statuettes could be handed out as early as March 2002.

The category will be added on a case-by-case basis and only when eight or more eligible films are released during a given calendar year.

If eight to 15 toon features are released in a year, a maximum of three films may be nominated; if 16 or more are released, no more than five may be nominated.

The Oscar for the new category would go to “the key creative talent most clearly responsible for the overall achievement” — normally a single individual on behalf of the entire production. In no case will more than two statuettes be presented.

“Animators have been lobbying for inclusion in the Oscar race for years,” an AMPAS spokesman said. “The past three years in particular have consisted of weighing the pros against the cons. It has been a long, drawn-out process and finally the board has managed to iron out a feasible proposal.”

To be eligible, animated features –which constitute all recognized animation techniques including cel, stop motion and computer animation –must be at least 70 minutes in length, “primarily animated,” and meet the other general requirements for feature film eligibility as published annually in the Academy Award rules. The overseeing committee will develop criteria for the definition of “primarily animated” in the coming months.

A recommendation on whether to activate the category each year will be made by the exec committee of the short films and feature animation branch, which will review all toon features released in L.A. County during the specified time period.

If eight or more are eligible, the committee may recommend to the board that an award be presented that year. If the governors agree, the nomination process will be set in motion.

The nominating procedure will begin with the recruiting of a screening committee of 100 or more L.A.-area members from all branches, who will determine the nominated films. Then all Acad members will vote on the winner.

The short films and feature animation branch will resolve questions of eligibility, rules interpretation and the designation of award recipients.

Films submitted in the animated-feature category may also qualify for nods in other areas, including best picture, provided they meet the rule criteria governing those categories.

The last new Academy Award categories were instituted in 1981: Makeup and the Gordon E. Sawyer Award. Latter is an honorary Oscar given for a career of technological contributions that have brought credit to the industry.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more