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AwardsIdeas/Commentary

Ed Catmull, Disney/Pixar Animation President, Is Candidate For Academy Board Of Governors

Ed Catmull, president of both Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and the disgraced industry figurehead at the center of the animation industry’s wage-fixing scandal, has made the list of final candidates for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Board of Governors elections being held in mid-June.

Catmull is one of four candidate in the Short Films and Feature Animation branch. The other three: veteran feature film animators Darlie Brewster (Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, The Huchback of Notre Dame, Osmosis Jones, The Prince of Egypt) and Tom Sito (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and co-animation director on Osmosis Jones), and industry legend Bob Kurtz (owner of the commercial studio Kurtz & Friends Animation and artist on The Alvin Show, Roger Ramjet, and George of the Jungle).

The four candidates were chosen from a pool of 12 contenders. The eight contenders who did not make the final cut were Tony Anselmo, Tony Bancroft, Mitchell W. Block, Jorgen Klubien, Brandon Oldenburg, James Scott, Andrew Sugerman, and Chris Tashima.

The three current governors on the short films and animation branch are Jon Bloom, Bill Kroyer, and Bob Rogers, the latter of whom is not seeking re-election this term and would be replaced by one of the four candidates. Additionally, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who is a member of the short films and feature animation branch, is a governor-at-large within the Academy.

The governors review candidates for membership in the short films and feature branch, and also debate and approve changes to the Academy Award rules for the shorts and feature animation branch.

Catmull unsuccessfully attempted to run for a governor’s seat in the Academy’s visual effects branch last year. His new attempt to run for a seat on the short films and feature animation branch is especially noteworthy because a Walt Disney Company-produced film has won the Academy Award for feature animation for nine out of the last ten years.

No other category of the Academy Awards has been so overwhelmingly dominated by a single company as the Walt Disney Company has owned the animated feature award for the last decade. The fact that the president of the studio that has won the award for almost an entire decade would now be a final candidate to oversee the rules of that category further fuels industry speculation about the legitimacy of the feature animation Oscar.

Further adding to the Academy’s crisis of credibility when it comes to animation honors: Catmull only transferred to the Academy’s short films and feature animation branch a few months ago. According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Some of the branch’s members have grumbled to The Hollywood Reporter that Catmull…shouldn’t be eligible to represent a group that he hasn’t even belonged to for a year — but clearly they were outnumbered.”

Catmull and his partner John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, have been known to use strong-arm tactics in the past to help restructure award show rules in their favor. In 2010, they withdrew all of Disney’s productions from ASIFA-Hollywood’s Annie Awards, forcing a leadership change within that organization and a revision of the organization’s rules, leading to the overwhelming domination by the Walt Disney Company at the Annies in recent years.

It’s unclear how Catmull could influence the Academy’s rules any more in Disney’s favor – Disney has not only won nine out of ten feature animation awards, but also won the short film Oscar for Piper this year – but the conflict of interest is apparent to all.

Additionally, the four final candidates for the visual effects branch of the Academy’s Board of Governors are Richard Edlund, Joe Letteri, Theresa Ellis Rygiel, and Bill Taylor.

  • Andres Molina

    This, in my opinion is good news. Now I know some people will completely brush off and completely forget about the numerous accomplishments Catmull made, and see this as bad news out of the sake of not wanting Disney or Pixar or CGI to win, and to find ways to bash and complain about Pixar and how CGI ruins everything. Forgetting about the the bias over which films will take the advantage Catmull is more than capable of a when you consider the fact that he practically helped pioneer the CGI technology and tools thats now used in almost all CGI and VFX companies. And honestly, I don’t think he’s simply running as candidate out of the sake of watching other types of films get snubbed so Pixar and Disney can rake in the golden statues, I honestly believe that he sees potential in all these genres of animation, its just that he happens to be president and working for Pixar and Disney. You’re all more than welcome to disagree, but either way, whoever gets chosen, I’m sure the Academy will be aided with good hands.

    • Mike

      A lot of us don’t object to Disney/Pixar or CGI dominating the awards strictly because they are what they are. If Disney makes a good, compelling film, then they should get a well deserved award. But we’re frustrated when we see a Frozen beat a The Wind Rises, or Big Hero 6 beat something like Song of the Sea. These are beautiful films that take risks, but are ignored in favor of safe, samey Disney films. I don’t think these films are bad at all, but I certainly don’t think they’re remotely crowning-award caliber either. And when year after year we see voters saying things like “I didn’t watch the weird movies, I picked the one my kid likes,” I already don’t have faith in the Academy’s perception or handling of the award as it is.

      What motive would Ed Catmull have to change this arrangement? More awards means prestige, means MONEY for his company and for him. As Amid points out, even if he was a scrappy pioneer for CGI, he obviously doesn’t give a lick about the art or those artists in the trench now–all he “pioneers” these days are plots to pay them less. And he’s not above playing dirty with awards shows, as he proved with the Annies. Wouldn’t somebody who’s actually been an artist working in the field much more recently be a better advocate for the less mainstream animated films and styles? I admire your optimism, but frankly I don’t think Catmull gives me any reason to share it.

      • Taco

        Well Said Mike! I think someone who’s in a position to do so should print out your comment, put it in a letter & send it to the folks organizing/voting in the Board of Governors election at the Academy. It might just cut through the institutional pomp & ceremony, turning some heads as to how they could improve the Academy Award nomination practices: Both in terms of their members/governors, as well as the films & awards themselves.

    • About Catmull

      Being a pioneer doesn’t absolve you from your unethical behaviour. Catmull has quite the track record, which I hope you would have taken into consideration if you bothered to read the article.

    • Pedro Nakama

      I disagree.

    • vincenzosz

      I don’t think its inherently a bad thing. But he’s a shady character to be sure. I find it interesting that you have such faith in a man who was behind a wage-fixing scene that weezled hard working animators out of thousands of dollars, all so he could line his already overflowing pockets. There is no evidence to suggest he won’t do anything to ensure Disney and Pixar continue to clean up at the awards. There is also no evidence to suggest he will either, but there is certainly probable cause based on past actions. However, the academy awards are clearly biased – there seems to be little to no artistic merit to who wins or who doesn’t. So its all moot anyways.

      • BeenThere

        Ed Catmul is a “shady character”? Clearly, you don’t know shit about Ed Catmull. You have no idea wtf you’re talking about. Neither does this writer with an agenda.

        • vincenzosz

          I don’t know about him as a person, he could be very lovely to those he’s close to. But when you are responsible for a company that’s been behind unethical behaviour such as he is, then yes in my books you are a shady individual.

    • ParryL

      I think people would mostly hate this because he has no problem scamming his employees, not because of his taste in movies

    • Taco

      A healthy level of criticism as to why Dr Catmull might not be the “best” choice for this position, when based on broad industry consideration and the limited competition in our already small niche sphere of film & art. You are welcome to share your opinion Mr Molina, but in my opinion, this Brew article is a good post expressing those concerns.

  • TargetmasterJoe

    Hmmm. Make it so that the people who are tasked to watch the nominated animated movies HAVE to watch it (i.e. Actually watch it, don’t just sign a form saying you saw it) and I’ll be a-okay with this.

    • ea

      Potential voters should be required to attend screenings of all the nominated films (with proof), and if not, they get disqualified from voting.

  • Troy

    I don’t technically see how it is bad, but I do want say this to Catmull: “The animation industry will not apologize if he didn’t made the cut.”

  • natef

    I love how this piece so shamelessly frames Catmull as a Hitler-esque tyrant

    • RCooke

      How so? He’s not a creative–and his contributions to the industry have impacted visual effects more than animation. How he thinks he could be elected to this role is curious seeing as how the animation community is more acutely aware of his anti-trust wage fixing past than even the visual effects community. According to all reports, his saying artists should be free to leave a job on their own volition–while secretly working to keep wages down across a large part of the industry–is the heart of this matter. Hitler? No. Autocratic? Yes, which reveals his true management style. It reveals tremendous lack of character to be pitied, but not trusted. Academy voters, take note.

  • Andres Molina

    To be perfectly honest, I just try to see the best in people, and I want to believe that any of the candidates will bring good hands for the Academy, even if they happened to be involved in shady business. I for a while, have dreams of working for Pixar or Disney, but the more articles about the wage scams and the more comments I read, the more discouraged and unhappy I become. Like there’s this thought or idea I create based on what other people say about how I shouldn’t want to work for these studios and how they’re just corrupt hacks with bright masks to hide their “corruption”, despite others saying how great these places are. I honestly don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong, but I want to listen to the part of my mind that says they’re flawed, but wonderful places to work for. I’m probably just rambling about my own thoughts that have nothing to do with this article, but I want to believe that in the end, whoever wins, will help the Academy in some way.

  • Andres Molina

    Ok. I just read the articles involving the wage scam. I’m quite surprised. I didn’t actually know about what he did. Im kinda heart broken. I guess I should rethink my entire future. I really had this dream to work at Pixar, but I guess I should just quit that dream as well, I honestly don’t even know if I should work for an animation studio anymore. Why is life like this? I don’t even know what to think anymore.

    • vincenzosz

      That’s a tad extreme Andres. Corruption is everywhere. If your dream is to work at Pixar or any other studio that’s great, but don’t go in thinking everyone there is a noble artist just trying to tell a story. Like any industry artistic or otherwise, there are plenty of good and bad people. And in my experience in animation ego is a HUGE problem – especially when it comes to management. At any studio, at every level there will be someone that wants to make art and someone that just wants to make money. Which ever one you are, keep your dream, keep your integrity, and keep informed. :)

    • Troy

      Many people feel the same way when the story had initially first came out. I am sorry if it did kill your dreams, but that is not a reason for you to immediately quit trying to become an animator. I personally can care less if people’s only objective of becoming an animator is to simply join any of the big companies, only to get weeded out because of horror stories and other reasons, like denial to reality. I can assure you that there are plenty of animators who do want to quit because of how the general public kicks them down, but 8/10 people just want to make animations because they like doing what they do and know that joining companies just helps them grow.

  • Elsi Pote

    Despite the insult of placing such figure besides professionals with an impeccable reputation. I’m not disgusted at all. I just feel validated on how my perception of the animation industry is not that wrong.

    Well the honor is him despite of his artistic and moral shortcommings.

  • P W

    On top of the important points illustrated in this article and in the comments that concur with it, I can’t help but notice an additional lack of diversity. There seems to be a majority male (but hurray for Jennifer Yuh Nelson!) and mostly Caucasian board and/or list of candidates, which increases the chances of a narrowed opportunities for non-western and/or indie filmmaker nominations, since it seems there tends to be more culturally diverse projects and more female directors (or I should say, more directors who do not identify as male) in those scenes.