Animation's unofficial guild ASIFA forecasts Oscar

Space considerations are the primary reason this year’s Annie Awards are changing locations from Glendale’s Alex Theater to UCLA’s Royce Hall, although there’s no denying that the 35-year-old animation honors’ growing influence on the Academy could also have something to do with it.

Awarded annually by ASIFA-Hollywood, a 4,000-member organization composed of animation professionals and enthusiasts, the kudofest awards the toons that resonate most with the animation community itself. In the last six years, it has accurately predicted five of the pics to win the Oscar animated feature prize.

So, while winning Annies doesn’t necessarily translate into bigger box office, the awards have earned a place in the bigger race.

“As the Annie Awards have become higher profile over the years, I think the studios are more interested in spending time, effort and money to influence the vote and campaign,” says ASIFA-Hollywood prexy Antran Manoogian, who confirms the move to an Oscar-friendly date was by design. He likens the Annies to the Screen Actors Guild Awards in terms of impact, which doesn’t bode well for Annie also-rans “Shrek the Third” and “Meet the Robinsons.”

Given the Annies’ track record, it seems safe to assume the Academy’s picks for its three animated feature slots (based on the number of qualifying films submitted) will represent a subset of the five nominees in the Annies’ equivalent category: “Bee Movie,” “Persepolis,” “Ratatouille,” “Surf’s Up” and “The Simpsons Movie.” The effective front-runner is Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” which leads the org’s nominations with 13, snagging nods in everything from voice acting to storyboards.

However, the animation community might have made its biggest statement by all but overlooking Robert Zemeckis’ motion-capture “Beowulf,” giving it just one nomination — for production design.

“A lot of animators consider it not really animation, even though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science allows it to be an animated film for awards purposes,” says Steve Hullett, who pens the TAG blog for the Animation Guild.

Adds Tom Sito, president emeritus of the Animation Guild, and ASIFA vice president: “I think that the people (involved with) ‘Beowulf’ have gone out of the way to say, ‘It’s not an animated film. This is better than character animation.’ So how does that make the character animators feel?”

But “Beowulf” may have better luck with the Academy, since the film also boasts a director primarily known for his live-action work (after all, the Annies picked “Cars” over the George Miller-helmed “Happy Feet” last year, but the Academy went the other way).

“This is the industry’s award,” says Manoogian, who insists the Annie is still animation’s highest honor. “It’s like the community has come together and decided what it considers to be the best in animation.”

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