Independent Animation Makes Big Play for Oscar Gold

Since big-budget CG features have been so influential, it’s sometimes hard to hear the outside voices that vie for attention during awards season. GKids regularly reminds us that hand-drawn animation continues to attract Oscar nominations — for such Irish films as “The Secret of Kells”; French offerings, including “Ernest and Celestine,” and great titles from Japan’s legendary Studio Ghibli.

This year, GKids is highlighting two Japanese 2D films, the sweet-tempered family tale “Mirai” and the surreal “Lu Over the Wall.” And Sony Pictures Classics is touting the Hungarian indie film “Ruben Brandt, Collector,” which definitely illustrates the idea that animation isn’t just for kids.

Of course, cultural sensibilities always factor into the equation. Illumination Entertainment may be headquartered in California, but its main animation crew is based at Mac Guff in France. That presented an interesting challenge when Illumination was making “The Grinch,” since the Seuss book plays liberally with the English language.

“Americans grew up with the Seuss books, but that’s not the case in France,” says co-director Yarrow Cheney. “When we did ‘The Lorax’ [in 2012], it was the first introduction to Dr. Seuss for many people at our studio.”

Fortunately, Illumination landed Benedict Cumberbatch to voice the Grinch and he was well aware of the book.

Co-director Scott Mosier, who oversaw the recording of Cumberbatch’s voice performance in London, says, “We were able to bring Benedict in early, and he did the heavy lifting to become the character.”

Britain was also where Wes Anderson’s stop-motion crew animated “Isle of Dogs,” as it had done for “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”

“It is a challenge to nail the subtleties that Wes wants,” says Jason Stalman, a British animator who played key roles on both films. “Even if you’ve worked with Wes before, each film brings new challenges. Everything about ‘Isle of Dogs’ was minimalist, from the composition, to the sets against white skies, to the characters’ nuanced eye movements.” Anderson based the film’s Japanese milieu on an original idea, unlike the Roald Dahl story that had inspired the “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” So this project definitely called upon the puppet crew to think differently.

“It isn’t like working with a ‘house style,’” Stalman says. “Wes moves from subtle to choppy, cartoony movements. He celebrates stop-motion in all its flawed glory.”

Stalman, who also worked with Tim Burton on the Oscar- nominated “Corpse Bride,” has now returned to Laika Studios, where he previously worked on a trio of Oscar nominees: “ParaNorman,” “The Boxtrolls” and “Kubo and the Two Strings.”

Though he can’t divulge details of the upcoming Laika project, he says he feels lucky to be working with such diverse voices in stop-motion films — still “dolly-wagging,” as he calls it.

Stalman gives voice to what all animators believe, regardless of their style of filmmaking, and whether they are working inside or outside of the Hollywood establishment: “All you are ever trying to do is to get performances that work really well.”

More Film

  • David Crosby

    David Crosby Says New Documentary 'Remember My Name' Is Like 'Being Naked in Public’

    “It’s not easy. It’s hard being naked in public,” David Crosby, the legendary troubadour of classic rock, reflected at Tuesday night’s New York City premiere of “David Crosby: Remember My Name.” “I don’t know what to do here. There’s no guitars, no drums,” he laughed. Directed by newcomer A.J. Eaton and produced by the legendary [...]

  • Javier Bardem Dune

    Javier Bardem in Talks to Play King Triton in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'

    Javier Bardem is in talks to play King Triton in Disney’s live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey will portray the Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of being a human, while Melissa McCarthy is playing her evil aunt Ursula. Harry Styles is also in early talks to play Prince Eric. “The Little Mermaid” [...]

  • UglyDolls

    STX Tries to Put Flops Behind It as It Searches for Star Executive, Fresh Capital

    After a series of film flops and an aborted initial public offering, STX Entertainment is battling mounting skepticism that it can survive in an increasingly unforgiving movie business. As it hustles to find $500 million in fresh capital, the company, which operates in the red according to financial disclosures, is simultaneously hoping to attract a [...]

  • Ryan Simpkins

    Ryan Simpkins Joins Fox-Disney's 'Fear Street' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Ryan Simpkins has joined Fox-Disney’s second installment of 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment’s “Fear Street” trilogy, based on the novels by R.L. Stine. Leigh Janiak is helming all three films. Previously announced cast includes Gillian Jacobs, Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, McCabe Slye, Kiana Madeira, Olivia Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Ashley Zukerman, Fred Hechinger, Julia [...]

  • MPAA Logo

    Motion Picture Association of America Hires Emily Lenzner as Communications Chief

    The Motion Picture Association of America has appointed veteran public relations executive Emily Lenzner as its executive VP of global communications and public affairs. She will report to Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin and oversee the trade group’s communications team in the U.S. and internationally. Lenzner will start Aug. 1 and be based at the MPAA’s [...]

  • 'Cats' Teaser Trailer: See Taylor Swift

    Taylor Swift Unveils Feline Moves in 'Cats' Behind-the-Scenes Teaser

    Taylor Swift fans finally get to see some of the results of all those years spent studying her roommates Meredith and Olivia — and also, not incidentally, some time with a choreographer — in a new behind-the-scenes teaser for the movie “Cats.” The three-and-a-half-minute featurette has footage of Swift striking crouching feline moves as well [...]

  • CGR’s Immersive Premium Format Set for

    Immersive Theater Technology Set for US Debut in Los Angeles

    French multiplex company CGR Cinemas has selected the Regal LA Live as the first U.S. theater to use its Immersive Cinema Experience technology. The ICE format will be unveiled in the fall at the downtown location in a partnership between CGR and AEG. The companies made the announcement Wednesday but did not reveal which title [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content