Variety‘s fifth annual 10 Animators to Watch celebrated what’s new, what’s different and what’s to come in animation.
Variety and Nickelodeon partnered for the event, held at NeueHouse in Hollywood on Tuesday night and hosted by Variety’s executive vice president of content Steve Gaydos. The 10 Animators to Watch — Henry Bonsy, Jérémy Clapin, Trevor Dalmer, Emily Limyun Dean, Valerie Lapointe, Natalie Nourigat, Keely Propp, Miguel Puga, Troy Quane, Malenga Mulendema — took the stage in honor of their auspicious careers in animation. Kristine Belson, president of Sony Pictures Animation, received the honor for Creative Impact in Animation.
“[Animation] is no longer a medium or genre for just kids. It’s a medium — and some of us think it’s the best medium — of storytelling for all audiences to enjoy,” Belson told the crowd upon accepting the honor.
Belson recalled the process of overhauling Sony Pictures Animation during her four year tenure: “Before we could figure out essentially how to rebuild the studio, we had to kind of figure out who are we going to be, what was our identity. We’re not Pixar, we’re not Illumination, we’re not Disney, we’re not Dreamworks. We don’t have the resources, the budget, we don’t have the timelines, networks, theme parks. The list of what we didn’t have went on and on, but what we realized is that it was quite freeing without that success.” She added, “There were no rules that we had to live by. We were going to get to make up the rules.”
Belson said she wanted to make movies that were not only “high quality,” but “looked different” and “felt different,” explaining that “we were seeing a lot of sameness out there.” That brought her to Sony’s Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” “They set out to create something that had never ever been seen before. These guys took so many risks along the way to create a story they thought was worthy of Miles Morales, this African-American Puerto Rican kid that was going to have to take this leap of faith and become the new Spider-Man,” Belson said of the creative team behind the film.
Peter Ramsey, who co-directed “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” introduced Belson, praising her for helping get the film made. “‘Spider-Verse’ has a lot of stuff in that movie which would give any studio pause — a heart attack. There’re a lot of gut checks going on. We saw Kristine go in there, throw elbows, stand her ground and fight for what she believed in,” said Ramsey. “She made a real space for us at the highest level for us to be able to make the movie what the movie was telling us it should be.”
The event also celebrated the 20th anniversary of “SpongeBob Squarepants,” whose eponymous sponge appears on the cover of Variety‘s 10 Animators to Watch issue. The voice actors for SpongeBob SquarePants (Tom Kenny), Patrick Star (Bill Fagerbakke), Sandy Cheeks (Carolyn Lawrence) and Squidward Tentacles (Rodger Bumpass) were all in attendance. The bar served “Spongebob” themed drinks, such as the “Bellini Bottom,” which riffs on the hometown of Spongebob and his friends, Bikini Bottom. A table of artists drew sketches from the show as well as caricatures of attendees.