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Past Oscar Nominees Size Up The Year In Animation

Animated films take years to complete. So animation directors can bask in acclaim one year and then seem to vanish from the scene, when, in fact, they are hard at work on their next picture. Variety caught up with three animation directors familiar to awards voters and asked them what they are working on and which of this year’s animated releases impressed them.

Henry Selick

Selick is no stranger to accolades. His feature directing bow was the iconic stop-motion film “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993), an annual staple that was nominated for an Academy Award (for visual effects) before there was even a category for animated feature, He also adapted and directed 2009’s “Coraline,” the first full-length film from stop-motion powerhouse Laika. “Coraline” received Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for animated feature.

Selick is excited about a of couple of new projects he’s been working on. One involves author Neil Gaiman, who wrote the novel on which “Coraline” was based. “Neil’s underlying material is so good that, if the film goes forward, it should be my best effort to date,” Selick says.

The other involves comic duo Key & Peele, based on an original story by Selick, “Wendell and Wild.” “It’s a comedy about two scheming demon brothers who must face their arch-nemesis, the demon-dusting nun Sister Helly and her acolytes, the goth teens Kat and Raoul.”

Selick has been very busy on these and other projects, and hasn’t seen much of the new crop of animated features out this year, but he’s looking forward to seeing next year’s “The Little Prince” by Mark Osborne, “especially the Jamie Caliri-Anthony Scott stop-motion sections.”

Marjane Satrapi

Satrapi co-wrote and co-directed with Vincent Paronnaud the 2007 French-Iranian-U.S. “Persepolis,” based on her autobiographical novel of the same name about coming of age during the Iranian Revolution. It was her first film, and it shared the 2007 Cannes Jury Prize (with Carlos Reygadas’ “Silent Light”) and went on to be nominated for an animated feature Oscar.
Satrapi is working on “The Extraordinary Journey,” an adaptation of “The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe” by Romain Puertolas.

“It’s a fable but a very grounded one, a magical realistic film,” Satrapi says. “This is probably what I like to do best since my last two films, ‘Chicken With Plums’ and ‘The Voices’ were also real and not real at the same time.”

Of the animated films she’s seen this year, Satrapi has been most moved by Pixar’s “Inside Out.” “I went to go see it three times and even bought myself a Sadness doll.”

Jorge R. Gutierrez

Gutierrez was already used to winning awards for his animated television series “El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera” when he hit the kudos circuit with his first animated feature, “The Book of Life,” last year. The lively, colorful tale of a love triangle that pushes the boundaries of life and death was nominated for a Golden Globe and won an Annie Award for achievement in character design.

Gutierrez is at work on another feature project, which he describes as kung fu space western, with Reel FX. “I could not be more excited with the spicy dish we’re cooking,” he says. “It’s going to be a funny love letter to the U.S.-Mexican border, which is where I grew up. But with lots of kung fu.”

Gutierrez has seen a fair amount of this year’s animated fare. “‘Shaun the Sheep’ pulled off an amazing feat with no dialogue. Incredibly smart and funny too,” he says. “The inventiveness and emotion of ‘Inside Out’ is pretty freaking outstanding. And ‘The Little Prince’ just left me in tears of joy.”

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