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‘My Life as a Zucchini,’ ‘Revolting Rhymes’ Top European Animation Awards

First Emile Awards celebrate the diversity of animation

LILLE, France  — “My Life as a Zucchini” and “Revolting Rhymes” topped the first European Animation Awards in Lille, France, on Friday night, scooping best feature and best TV/broadcast production respectively, as the Emiles turned into a wholehearted hurrah for two types of animation central to Europe’s toon fare: Traditional, non-CGI techniques and stories drinking deep from national cultures.

Enrolling stop-motion, for instance, for a non-saccharine but ultimately uplifting portrayal of orphanhood, Swiss Claude Barras’ “My Life as a Zucchini,” proved the biggest winner of Friday night, taking three Emile statues in total, including score for its guitar soundtrack and writing – more recognition for screenwriter Celine Sciamma, a distinguished youth-themed film director in her own right (“Boyhood”).

“It’s a tribute to kids who are dealt a bad hand in life. Here, they come together and are able to create their own family,” said producer Max Karli, at Geneva and Paris-based Rita. The award adds to an Oscar nomination and best animated feature wins at Annecy, France’s Cesars, Lumières and European Film Awards.

A two-part CGI special produced by Magic Light Pictures for the BBC, “Revolting Rhymes” was created by Magic Light Pictures in Berlin and Triggerfish Animation Studios in Cape Town. That said, its humor could only be British as it kicks off with a Big Bad Wolf, whose urbane tones, delivered suavely by Dominic West, suggest a very costly public school education, recounting how  Red Riding Hood, who becomes a wolf hit-woman, did for his nephews Ralph and Rex.

Adapting Roald Dahl’s worldly poem reprises of traditional fairy tales, “Rhymes” also won TV character design for figures which nail British types, tropes and customs: From a pudgy spinster who frequents a cafe with black pudding topping the menu, to an urchin RRH, or a pig which reads a newspaper called “The Pun.”

Equally, “Shaun the Sheep” Season 5, from Aardman Animations, Europe’s biggest practitioners of stop-motion, took best storyboard in TV.

“Everything about it is profoundly different. The way a joke is told, the things you can joke about, the way a joke is delivered vocally, the incidental sight gags, the way the landscape is covered,” Peter Lord, president of Aardman and the European Animation Awards, said of British animation in Lille.

“We don’t do it deliberately, we just do what comes naturally,” he added, calling hand drawn and stop motion animation “goood for kids: “If animation were a menu, it means there’s something different on it.”

Further top craft awards went to two of Europe’s biggest recent achievements in 2D: Michael Dudok de Wit’s magic realist castaway parable “The Red Turtle,” and Remi Chayé’s “Long Way North,” an 1880-set North Pole adventure. Both feature bold but winning artistic decisions, if Emile Awards are to go by. Produced by Studio Ghibli, “Turtle” twins island landscapes depicted with absolute precision – few films capture so well dappled granite rocks –  with characters which are far more obviously fiction creations, the nose of the protagonist castaway being reduced to two simple lines, turning him, as “Ethel & Ernest’s” animation director Peter Dodd suggested, into a kind of everyman.

“We needed to fill the place with vegetation but observing a basic elegance in  simplicity. For instance ,the forest is very simple, bamboo nothing else, no flowers or variation,” Dudok de Wit said at Lille after the Awards.

“The Red Turtle” also picked up best storyboard in a feature film production.

“All the storyboards looked strong,” Dudok de Wit said. Maybe “The Red Turtle” won because its lack of dialog made the storyboard, which he drew, all the more important, he hazarded. “Dialog already says so much about a story.”

Lead-produced by France’s Sacrebleu Productions, “Long Way North” won best background/character design for not only the beauty of its graphics but the daring decision to use borderless designs, “blocky, two-dimensional fields of color with minimal use of lines, all the better to emphasize the whiteness and emptiness once the action gets above the Arctic Circle,” Peter Debruge wrote in his Variety review.

Produced by Didier Brunner’s Folivari in France and featuring the friendship between a gentle bear and a feisty mice, “Ernest & Celestine,” the TV series spin-off of the highly successful movie,- won TV background/character design, its water color style visuals capturing its inspiration, Gabrielle Vincent’s children’s books, via character modeling in 3D and rendering in 2D animation.

The  first Lotte Reiniger Achievement Award went also to Richard Williams, an animator who spent 28 years making his major work, “The Thief and the Cobbler,” a 1992 75% finished work-print, restored by the Academy, was screened in Lille on Thursday, hailed as an incomplete masterpiece. Williams sparked a standing applause when he took it the stage after a video in which leading Europe animators such as Ireland’s Tomm Moore acknowledged his large influence on their work. Now 84, Williams has been engaged for the last 20 years, he said in Lille, on a film whose working title is called “Will I Live to Finish This?” “I would like it to be 60 to 70 minutes [long] but statistically working at the speed I am now I’ll be 130 when I finish, so the only way I will do it is to draw smaller,” he told Variety.

In other awards, Cartoon Networks’ “The Amazing World of Gumball” won best TV writing for its tale of a 12-year-old blue cat, his adopted goldfish brother/best friend Darwin, his brilliant little sister and his rabbit parents, which constantly make the mundane extraordinary with unmistakable animation techniques. “Gumball” has already won at the BAFTAs, Annecy and Kids Choice Awards and has a slew of Annie Award nominations, with one win for best animation.

Sparking one of the biggest applauses of the night – it had large problems getting made – French TV drama “Lastman,” about a spacetime boxer who discovers a fantasy world, won for its action soundtrack.

Of shorts, already sparking buzz from its Cannes Directors’ Fortnight bow and a 2017 Annecy Fest best animated short winner, existential musical “The Burden” scooped animated short. Terry Gilliam meets Ingmar Bergman, Swede Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s short sees surreal hybrid beings singing about the difficulty of relationships, their fish heads stuck in dressing gowns, or about the dehumanizing pressures of office life, a song and dance routine performed by an office of monkeys.

“The Burden” is “a tribute to Hollywood musicals, Gene Kelly, ‘Anchors Away,’” but darker-themed,” Lindroth von Bahr said at Lille. She added: “I wanted to shed some light upon the boring low paid jobs low no one really sees: Putting food in the right places in a supermarket. If those employees were to find themselves in a musical, what would they sing about?”

Existential angst and alienation this year has rarely been so comedic, and sad.

“Merlot,” a daintily drawn multi-panel graduation film by Giulia Martinelli and Marta Gennari, at Piedmont’s Centro Sperimentali di Cimematografia, snagged best student film. Set in an fairy tale ocean-blue forest, its knockabout comedy sees stock characters – a granny, a wolf, a by, a hunter – ricocheting from one to another split-screen panel in a comic concatenation of consequences. “We wanted to tell a fairy story in different way,” said Gennari. “It was an experiment, more of a game, playing with expectations,” Martinelli added.

Winner of best commissioned film, Studio Moth’s “The Last Job on Earth,” a reflection on how A.I. may replace the workforce, pictures a young girl’s lonely day at work when she is the last worker in the world.

“Peripheria,” which scored a Cesar nomination for best animated short, won best background and character design for its bold ravaged animation of a an abandoned council estate in an urban environment which reverts to savagery, described as a modern Pompeii.

The first European Animation Awards unspooled in a packed main auditorium at Lille’s modern Le Nouveau Siècle theater. They come at an upbeat time for European animation. The large question is how to build on this year’s Awards success. Europe already has a large animation industry, producing 360 toon films a year and 730 TV series, the latter for a total budgetary value of $2.5 billion.

“European [animation] industry is so busy right now, there is so much going on, it’s really booming. It’s a golden age so it’s great to recognize all the talent,” “Song of the Sea’s” Tomm Moore said at Lille.

“We have a paradox. European animation is growing, it is exported. But we have to do more. We have a responsibility to dynamize the ecosystem,” said Patrick Eveno, president of the Annecy Festival organization.

“I think we can still make the Emile Awards bigger,” said Peter Lord, president of the European Animation Awards, suggesting the number of categories can increase.

“With a large number of applications – close to 500 for the 16 categories –  we already have a good overview of European production in 2016-2017, reflecting a high quality and large diversity,” said Jean-Paul Commin, one of the Awards founders.

“The real test of the Awards is “membership and interest increasing from around Europe,” Lord added. Here there is cause for optimism. “Over 25,000 people in Europe are involved in animation so we have a strong potential of development in terms of membership,” he added.

The Emile Awards are named after France’s Emile Reynaud who made the four-minute animated short “Poor Pierrot” in 1892, three years before the Lumières’ live action shorts, and Emile Cohl, who shot a hand-drawn comedy, “Fantasmagorie,”  in 1908 film for Gaumont.

Friday’s European Animation Awards Ceremony concluded with a screening of Nora Twomey’s Afghanistan-set Oscar contender “The Breadwinner,” appropriately enough hand-drawn via TVPaint, framing a stop-motion looking story-within-a-story, grounded in part on the pictorial style of the world it portrays – “you see the influence not just of Afghan art but of art from around the regions that surround it,” Twomey said in Lille – but also a universal story of female empowerment.

That indeed was another theme running through Friday’s Awards. Five women picked up prizes. Women dominated the younger categories of student and animated short winners. The Awards’ Lifetime Achievement Award is named after a woman who made me of the earliest surviving feature-length animated films, 1926’s “The Adventures of Prince Ahmed,” Williams pointed out in his acceptance speech. His remark was met with applause.

WINNERS, THE 2017 EUROPEAN ANIMATION AWARDS

BEST FEATURE FILM

“My Life as a Zucchini,” (France, Switzerland)

BEST TV/BROADCAST PRODUCTION

“Revolting Rhymes,” (U.K.)

BEST COMMISSIONED FILM

“The Last Job on Earth,” (U.K.)

BEST BACKGROUND AND CHARACTER DESIGN IN AN ANIMATED SHORT FILM

“Peripheria,”  (France)

BEST BACKGROUND AND CHARACTER DESIGN IN A TV/BROADCAST PRODUCTION

“Ernest & Celestine,” (France)

BEST BACKGROUND AND CHARACTER DESIGN IN A

“Long Way North,” (France, Denmark)

BEST STUDENT FILM

“Merlot,” (Italy)

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

“The Burden,” (Sweden)

BEST CHARACTER ANIMATION IN A TV/BROADCAST PRODUCTION

“Revolting Rhymes,” (U.K.)

BEST CHARACTER ANIMATION IN A FEATURE FILM PRODUCTION

“The Red Turtle”

LOTTE REINIGER LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

Richard Williams

BEST WRITING IN A TV/BROADCAST PRODUCTION

“The Amazing World of Gumball,” (U.K.)

BEST WRITING IN A FEATURE FILM PRODUCTION

“My Life as a Zucchini”

BEST SOUNDTRACK IN A TV/BROADCAST PRODUCTION

“Lastman,” (France),

BEST SOUNDTRACK IN A FEATURE FILM PRODUCTION

“My Life as a Zucchini”

BEST STORYBOARD IN A TV/BROADCAST PRODUCTION

“Shaun The Sheep” (Season 5), (U.K.)

BEST STORYBOARD IN A FEATURE FILM PRODUCTION

“The Red Turtle”

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