UPDATE: two more of the shorts, “Adam and Dog” and “Paperman,” are available online now, hooray! I’ve updated the videos and descriptions below.
Forget Lawrence vs. Chastain this Oscar season–Best Animated Short Film is where it’s at! Not really, but it’s always nice to enjoy the creativity and hard work by filmmakers who have made it all the way to the Oscars yet are still quite overlooked by the general public. First, in case you are curious, these are the summarized rules (full rules here) for this category:
- Short films are defined to be 40 minutes or less.
- Films must qualify in one of two ways: it must be shown commercially in a Los Angeles theater or win a qualifying award in the year prior to the nomination due date. It must not have been shown in a nontheatrical form, such as on television or the Internet, prior to one of those two events, which is why your favorite Youtube web series is likely ineligible.
- A shortlist of the ten best films (or six, if not enough got high ratings) is selected by a committee. The 3-5 final nominees are determined by the Animation branch of the Academy, and the winner is selected among them by all Academy members.
- Only two individuals max can win the award.
Historically, many of the nominees and winners in this category, which began in 1932, have been films made by large studios, with subject matters such as fairy tale retellings and Tom and Jerry shorts. The first 8 Oscars in this category were won by Walt Disney and his production company, until his streak was ended by MGM. Nowadays, thanks to a myriad of technological advances, there are many more nominated films that are made by 10-people studios, in artists’s garages, and as school projects. But just because it’s easier to make a film doesn’t mean it will become a household classic.
These short films don’t get much attention in general because they’re difficult to market and difficult for the public to see. Unless your short was produced for by Pixar or Disney to show in front of their full-length animated film, no one’s going to finance or distribute your movie. With the Internet, it’s easy to show your film but hard to make money from it, though websites like Film Annex are trying. It doesn’t help that the Oscar rules essentially disallow you from showing your film on the Internet for money until you qualify for consideration. As a result, many of these independent short films are only seen by the festival crowd and awards body members, which is really a shame.
Now I’m finally getting to the crux of this article: this year’s crop of contenders. Pixar somehow did not manage to get a slot, but I’m sure they’ll be back next year. Both Disney and Fox got shorts shown before their full-length movies nominated, and the remaining are independent works.
If I were an Oscar voter, I would vote for this short out of the ones available so far. A beautifully drawn and animated story about a man and his dog in paradise, “Adam and Dog” won the Best Animated Short Subject at the Annies. It was made out-of-pocket by Minkyu Lee, Disney artist and animation instructor at CalArts, who spent over two years of spare time and six months full time along with his friends on this project, and the few spots of roughness only adds to the charm. It’s refreshing to see a more realistic take on nature: Adam is actually naked, as opposed to wearing some silly loincloth, and the dog does not possess the ability of speech or human-like intelligence. It’s a better, less stupid version of “Jurassic Bark,” and somehow I didn’t see the plot going the way it did despite it being the most obvious plot upon hindsight. Just a lovely, touching story.
“Fresh Guacamole” is a clever and delicious short made by PES, who has turned using-objects-to-depict-other-objects into an art form. This short is actually a sequel to a similar film, Western Spaghetti, but I think I like this one better. It’s great how you can instantly tell what objects are being represented with the imagery and sounds, and I especially love the lightbulb/pepper. Looking at PES’s website, I can’t say that he has the most diverse portfolio, but kudos to him for finding a clever gimmick then running with it in so many incarnations.
Head over Heels is a stop-motion movie about a husband and wife who live on different planes of existence–literally. It was written and directed by Timothy Reckart and made by eleven students over 14 months at the National Film and Television School. All that hard work resulted in a ton of festival awards and an Oscar nomination. Hopefully we’ll be able to see it in full soon.
Filmmaker: David Silverman
Style: 3D digital
Read more: Wikipedia
And now we get to the studio fare. This short was shown before Ice Age: Continental Drift in theaters and is apparently much funnier than the actual film. No official full version, but you can find crappy recordings of it floating around. Here Maggie Simpson is sent off to the Ayn Rand School for Tots, which ironically has an insanely complicated, privacy-invading security system. There she meets her enemy, who smashes butterflies into walls to make art. Drama ensues!
“Paperman” was produced by Disney and aired in front of Wreck-It Ralph. The team used new in-house technology named Meander that layers traditional art on top of CG renderings to keep the charm of 2D while adding the polish of 3D, resulting in a really beautiful and period-appropriate style. However, the plot is your standard treacly boy-meets-girl story set in 50′s New York. It really got so silly in the end that I felt compelled to turn it off. If you want two hours worth of Disney sentimentality crammed in seven minutes, this is the short for you.
And there you have your nominees for Best Animated Short Film. Oscars don’t come with prize money, but hopefully all the above filmmakers can use this publicity to get more opportunities for making great cinema.