Why 'Beowulf' passed Oscar test but 'Alvin' didn't

Wondering just how complicated the Academy’s rules can be on animation? Ask the producers of “Alvin and the Chipmunks.”

Even though the Fox movie stars three CG rodents, the Acad’s animated feature screening committee (which is made up of half animation professionals and half non-experts) concluded that the otherwise live-action pic isn’t eligible for a best animated feature nomination because it doesn’t fulfill the rule that “animation must figure in no less than 75% of the picture’s running time.”

“Beowulf,” meanwhile, a film in which every character is portrayed by a living breathing person, ultimately did qualify for an animation nod. The committee concluded that helmer Robert Zemeckis’ motion-capture process did have, in the words of Acad exec director Bruce Davis, “enough individual frame manipulation after the motion capture process.”

It’s a complicated set of rules and a subjective process, as those two examples demonstrate. Consider the minefield of potential disqualifications each toon faces:

  • As “Alvin” learned, movies must be at least 75% animated. That’s an attempt to keep out live action pics that feature some CG animated effects. But when animation and live action heavily intermix?

  • The animation has to be more than just coloring-in live action. Davis says the committee debates intensely whether animators on “Beowulf” did enough original work over the motion capture data to deserve recognition. The rotoscope style of 2006’s “A Scanner Darkly” wouldn’t cut it.

  • Producers and the Acad have to agree on who will be nominated. Filmmakers are supposed to designate the “key creative individual” from the pic, which in most cases is the director or directing team, but could theoretically be anyone.

  • If a toon opens first overseas, its U.S. release date can’t fall more than 22 months behind. This year, Bill Plympton’s “Hair High” was disqualified because it screened commercially in France in 2005. The same could happen to Goro Miyazaki’s “Tales from Earthsea” whenever Disney decides to open domestically.

  • Don’t miss the deadlines! An entry form with signatures of the credited producer(s) and director(s) must be sent by Nov. 1, followed by a print by Nov. 16.
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