Toon kudos work to skirt controversy

Despite Disney/Pixar’s decision to sit out this year’s Annie Awards in a protest over voting policies, the crowd in attendance for the animation community’s biggest night erupted in applause when such Mouse House entries as “Toy Story 3″ and “Day & Night” were announced among the nominees in their categories.

“We’re all frustrated with the politics of what’s happening here, and you can tell that by all the jokes (event emcee) Tom Kenny made, but I think the animation community still appreciates the work that everyone is doing,” says Jerry Beck, an animation historian and member of ASIFA Hollywood, the animation society that runs the kudos. “It doesn’t change the fact that ‘Day & Night’ was a great short film and deserved to be honored.”

Even though Disney/Pixar animation didn’t submit its films for consideration, Beck and other ASIFA members made a point of getting members to see the movies and nominate them if they thought they deserved a nod. Beck in particular made sure that the Pixar short “Day & Night” was seen.

“We went on YouTube and watched it there,” says Beck.

Although “Day & Night” did not pursue Annie recognition per se, when it won the animated short category, Ed Catmull, president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios, released a statement saying they were “immensely proud of the film and appreciate the recognition it has received.”

The short’s win was a rare one for Disney/Pixar that night. By not officially submitting, the studio’s pics suffer most in individual achievement categories, where background material is necessary to evaluate work in such categories as character design and storyboards. “How to Train Your Dragon” swept nearly every category where it was nominated, including best animated feature.

Still, ASIFA Hollywood president Antran Manoogian doesn’t think DreamWorks’ domination of the night should cast any doubt on the results.

“When Disney used to win everything years ago, there was never a question of who was voting or how the results were determined,” Manoogian says. “Every competition is a competition among those who decide to participate.”

The current kerfuffle came to a head two years ago when “Kung Fu Panda” won big at the Annies, beating out “Wall-E” for top prizes. It was then that Disney and Pixar approached ASIFA to discuss how the voting was done, according to Beck.

“Personally, I think (Disney/Pixar) had a point,” Beck concedes. “But a lot has been done since then to try to address what bothered them, and I think it has made the Annies better and more fair than they’ve ever been.”

Manoogian says ASIFA started a process to qualify Annie voters this year. ASIFA members had to submit their qualifications for voting, which would include their history of credits and employment for each area in which they wanted to vote. AFISA then reviewed and verified all the applications. As a result, only voice actors and those working in that area could vote for that category, while only working professionals in character animation could vote for those awards, and so on.

“We definitely plan to go forward honoring the very best in animation that’s out there, and we’ll continue to include Disney and Pixar films even if they’re not submitted,” Manoogian says. “I told them when they decided they weren’t going to be here that the door is always open, and it still is.”

More on Eye on the Oscar: Animation:
Toons get animated start | Annie voters see light of ‘Day’ | Characters rigged to tell emotional tale | Toon shorts offer innovative views

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