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A ton of clay a day keeps auds in theaters.

Computer generated 3D images dominate the short history of the animation Oscar. But this year, two front-runners--DreamWorks' "Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit" and "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" from Warner Bros.--both use film's oldest animation technique: stop motion.

"Wallace" director Nick Park--who has already won three Oscars for shorts, two of which starred cheese-loving Wallace and his clever dog Gromit--fashioned a plasticine Little Britain for the film, with artists painstakingly manipulating the plastic clay figures, then photographing them frame by frame.

"Audiences love the technique. Audiences think (the characters) are real people and they respond to them," says "Wallace" producer and Aardman Animation principal Peter Lord, adding, "once you've seen an army of 2 million in a CGI movie, you stop being moved," and people react to the reality of claymation.

Tons of clay was used, and CGI was only used briefly--and only for scenes in which traditional claymation methods would not work.

"The technique doesn't hold you back," says Lord. "There's nothing you couldn't try."

"Corpse Bride" was shot using two dozen digital cameras and five Power Mac G5 desktops. Tim Burton and animation vet Mike Johnson directed the film that used puppets covered with Latex "skin"--inside each puppet was a full animatronic armature that was manipulated to create frame-by-frame movement and facial expressions.

"There's something compelling about the tone and style," says Johnson. "But the most important thing is the stow."

"Corpse Bride's" puppet innovations are apparent onscreen. "It had an enormous impact, having Tim Burton involved in this technique. (The film) advances it and brings it to a new generation of animators."

Coincidentally, Helena Bonham Carter voices starring roles in each film.

But Oscar has not always known what to do with feature length innovative animation.

Walt Disney won seven short subject Oscars and one special award for creating Mickey Mouse before his 1937 masterpiece "Snow White" was released.

The feature changed the way animated stories were present ed and drawn, and the Academy responded with another special statue--and seven miniature ones for the dwarves (cute but perhaps a flip reminder of its confusion about the form).

It wasn't until 1991 when the Acad took an animated feature seriously again. That year, Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," a tour de force of tooning loosely based on Jean Cocteau's "La Belle et la bete," was nominated for a slew of Oscars, including best picture.

It didn't win, but the output of high-quality animated features rolled out in the 1990s turned heads come awards time.

In 1995, the Acad gave Pixar's John Lasseter a special achievement award for his "in spired leadership of the Pixar 'Toy Story' team, resulting in the first feature-length computer-animated film."

The Academy finally established the animated feature category in 2001; DreamWorks' "Shrek" won.

And although the superb "The Incredibles," from Disney/Pixar, won the 2004 ani Oscar, some still raised the question: Just what makes a best picture?

Most animators probably don't care.

"People who work in this style are passionate," Lord says. "They feel they are last of the tribe." He then adds, "We concentrate on performance. We think of our films as live-action films."
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Title Annotation:claymation in movies
Author:Horst, Carole
Publication:Variety
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 28, 2005
Words:526
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