Annie Awards Expand Reach in Evolving Animation World

The Annies, started by animation organization ASIFA-Hollywood nearly 50 years ago as a dinner to honor toon veterans Max and Dave Fleischer, has today morphed into a major awards season event, honoring achievements in 32 categories as well as a number of juried kudos.

“We keep growing every year,” says Frank Gladstone, executive director of ASIFA-Hollywood. This year it will be held on Jan. 25 at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus, its home for the past several years.

“Every year, for the last few years, we’ve had between 10% and 20% growth. Not only in how much it costs, because that’s true too, but in the amount of submissions. This year, we had almost 2,000 submissions. That’s a lot of submissions!”

More entries, more award categories, more impact, more cachet.

“We’re getting to be an award that people are paying attention to,” he says. “I saw a billboard the other day that said ‘Nominated for Seven Annies.’ Whether the entire industry takes us seriously or not, I’ll never know. But I think they do because we’re getting more interest.”

Jerry Beck, president of ASIFA-Hollywood, notes the org and the Annie Awards are evolving along with the animation industry as a whole.  “We’ve changed a lot,” he says. “The whole animation universe has really, really changed. It’s a whole new world. I feel like we’re on the cusp of some new industry leaders. It’s just an unusual period.”

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Some of these changes are driven by the entry of streaming into the entertainment landscape. Netflix projects picked up 39 Annie noms, far outpacing the usual leaders Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks Animation.

“We change with what’s going on in the field,” Beck says. “We either follow, or sometimes we try to be ahead of what’s going on. We try to be ahead. If streaming is the new thing, we try to figure out how does that fit into what we do and how we judge whether something’s a theatrical release or this or that. That’s been what’s been going on lately. We are obviously once again in the midst of change.”

“We know the rules are going to have to solidify over a few years” with regard to streaming, Gladstone says. “But we put our toe in the water this year.”

Another change ASIFA-Hollywood may have to contend with, and soon, is the inclusion of even more categories as new technologies bring new jobs into the animation industry, spurring calls for recognition.

“We have individual groups that are asking us to consider awards for their disciplines,” Gladstone says. “I can only speculate, but there’s a good chance that awards will be added. In that case, depending on how many awards we give, we’re going to have to start thinking about a second ceremony.”

How that would come about is yet to be determined. “It all requires careful improvement steps. So we have to be aware of that,” Gladstone says.

While the Annies are ASIFA-Hollywood’s signature event, the org’s leaders emphasize that it is much more than the kudos.

“We like to remind people that ASIFA is not just the Annie Awards,” Beck says. “That’s our biggest and most visible event. We love it. We’re proud of it. But we don’t do just the Annies. We do outreach, we go out and give lectures and we are there as an industry resource. We’re also there for the community as a resource. I’m very, very, very proud of the group and I’m very, very proud of the animation community in general. I’m just so happy we’re in a wonderful state right now.”

High profile nominations include:

Best Feature

“Frozen 2”
Walt Disney Studios Animation

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”

Netflix presents a production of the Spa Studios and Atresmedia Cine

“Missing Link”

“Toy Story 4”

Indie Feature

“Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles”
Sygnatia, Glow, Submarine, Hampa Animation Studio

“I Lost My Body”
Xilam for Netflix

“Okko’s Inn”

Trigger, XFlag

“Weathering With You”
Toho, Story, CoMix Wave Films

For a full list of nominations, see: asifa-hollywood.org/annie-awards

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