Variety, Nickelodeon Fete Lasseter, Catmull, Lamb and 10 Animators to Watch

The animation industry turned out to honor three biz veterans and a new class of rising talents at Variety’s inaugural 10 Animators to Watch event Tuesday at Siren Studios in Hollywood, presented by Variety and Nickelodeon.

Disney-Pixar’s John Lasseter and Ed Catmull were hailed for Creative Impact in Animation, while Cal State Fullerton’s Dana Lamb was named Animation Educator of the Year for his work developing the animation program at the school.

Lasseter was thrilled that the event was putting the spotlight on animation because so many people are part of the process. “Animation is the most collaborative artform there is on the planet. By nature of the way you create these movies, you have to collaborate. And collaboration is where real genius happens. That’s what’s awesome about animation,” he said.

Catmull offered this advice to those looking to get into the animation business: “It’s not about learning to use tools. What makes me nervous about some programs is that they teach people how to be tool-based. It’s really about recognizing the value of observation, thinking about that and using that to add something new to whatever it is you’re working on.”

Variety’s 10 Animators to watch — Phil Bourassa, Warner Bros. Animation; Disney’s Lorelay Bove & Brittney Lee; Paramount Animation’s Dylan Brown; Nick Bruno of Blue Sky; Pixar’s Josh Cooley; Thomas Grummt of DreamWorks Animation; Illumination’s Miguel Jiron; the Layzell Brothers: Matt, who works at Nickelodeon, and Paul, a freelance illustrator; Disney Channel’s Daron Nefcy; and Oscar-nommed stop-motion animator Timothy Reckart, who is developing a CG feature at Sony Pictures Animation — offered their own words of inspiration to aspiring animators.

Said Bove: “Enjoy what you’re doing, have fun with it and draw. Draw a lot.” Bove’s partner at Disney, Lee, pointed out that there are more avenues than ever to gain an entree into animation. “Don’t be discouraged if your first plan to get into the industry doesn’t work. Try as many things as you can. It will lead you somewhere,” she said.

Grummt, a lead animator on “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” said: “Do as much as much animation as you can. That’s the only way to learn. It’ll be faster if you have people who can teach you things and can mentor you. But the only way you can get somewhere is by doing a lot of work.”

Bourassa, who works in WB’s DC superhero world, urged young animators to make drawing a top priority. “If you’re a kid and you’re still in school, school is important. And family. But then drawing has to be right up there. Obsession might not be the right word for it, but you have to train for it the way an athlete has to train for a sport.”

Pixar’s Cooley said to “Do what you love.  I’ve been with Pixar for 11 years now and I still get as excited as Day One because I love telling stories and making up stuff and I can do it every day. I feel very lucky I get to do that.”

Brown was at Pixar for 18 years before moving on to co-direct Paramount’s first all-CG animated feature. He offered this advice: “Always be true to yourself and work with the best people you can possibly work with and learn what you can from them.”

Reckart, whose stop-motion short “Head Over Heels” was Oscar-nommed, echoed Lasseter’s words about collaboration: “My start really benefitted from collaborating with other people who were super talented. To me that was the major benefit of going to film school. Without them, I don’t think I would have made ‘Head Over Heels’ and without ‘Head Over Heels,’ I don’t think I’d be where I am now.”

Illumination’s Jiron pointed out that there are so many new venues for animation. “It’s never been easier to create your own thing,” he said. “I know so many people who are just going into school now who have already created shorts, which is incredible.”

Bruno, who is working on Blue Sky’s “Peanuts” movie due out this fall, says don’t give up. “Keep drawing, have fun, and keep dreaming. It will happen.”

Nefcy, whose series “Star Vs. the Forces of Evil” just got picked up for a second season on the Disney Channel, advised “Keep making stuff. CalArts made us make a film every year and now anyone can do that anywhere. The technology’s there. It’s never going to be good the first time, then it gets better the second time, and you keep getting better.”

Nickelodeon’s Matt Layzell, whose brother and fellow honoree Paul couldn’t make the trip from the U.K. for the event, said “Work hard and, no matter what job you get, do the best you can and the rest will follow.”

Presiding over the presentation of the awards were Variety Vice President and Executive Editor Steven Gaydos and Russell Hicks, president, content development and production at Nickelodeon.

Hicks also announced the establishment of a $25,000 animation scholarship by Nickelodeon in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Viacom.

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