edannie2010 edannie2010

Disney’s Annie Awards Withdrawal

Last Wednesday we posted a link from Variety in our Industry Headlines column (at right), Disney Withdraws from Annie Awards, which clearly deserves further discussion on Cartoon Brew. The Variety piece, as far as I know, is essentially fair and accurate. But some of the secondary reporting on this, on such blogs as the Animation Guild and Michael Sporn to name two, are unintentionally spreading misinformation. So I thought we owed it to our readers to set a few things straight.

First, Disney’s withdrawal does not mean Disney films will not be considered or nominated, and does not mean the studio has no chance to win future Annie Awards. They certainly will.

Disney’s decision only affects the Annie Awards in two ways: Disney will not provide their traditional portion of co-sponsorship money (a role that dates back at least twenty years), funds that help mount the annual event at UCLA’s Royce Hall. And secondly, the company currently says they will not submit nominees from their feature animation studios.

Disney and Pixar artists (and all animators, anywhere) should be aware that they can submit their own work for Annie nomination without studio assistance. Also, Annie nominating committees have the power to nominate work which was not submitted. Nominations are decided by peer-group committees, not studio execs, and winners are voted on by Asifa’s professional membership. So again, I predict Disney and Pixar to be well represented come award time.

ASIFA was established by animation artists such as Norman McLaren, John Hubley, and John Halas in 1957. ASIFA’s Hollywood chapter, a non-profit organization, was started a few years later by Bill Scott, Stephen Bosustow, Ward Kimball, William T. Hurtz, Carl Bell, Les Goldman, June Foray, and Bill Littlejohn. The Annie Awards have always been presented by artists, for artists.

Long before the Oscars and Golden Globes thought animated features worthy of their awards, the Annies recognized features, TV shows, direct-to-video movies and commercials, as well the animators, story artists, background painters, voice actors and other behind the scenes talent.

It’s a wonderful thing when those who run the corporations that profit most from the artform support and celebrate the people who actually create the work. From what I know, the Annies will go on this year with strong support from Nickelodeon, Sony, Dreamworks, Warner Bros., Cartoon Network, Fox, Universal and Starz.

Disney management, in an email sent to Disney/Pixar employees last week, encouraged its employees “to maintain their memberships and support for the Annies as they deem appropriate”. Somehow, someday, I suspect Disney will return to supporting the Annies – at a time they deem appropriate.

  • As long as the withdrawal doesn’t effect the Annies from happening… Definitely an important event and platform for recognizing great animation work.

  • Thanks Jerry, for setting the record straight (and providing that valuable historical reference). I regularly read and admire Michael Sporn’s blog, so it’s good to have my daily read keeping things in focus. I hope Disney execs change their minds.

  • Sydney Carton

    Two problems here: 1)Disney is not Disney anymore. And 2) Anyone can consider themselves an animator

    • “Anyone can consider themselves an animator”…

      How is that a problem? Isn’t that a good thing, if potentially anyone is eligible? I’m not interested in awards that also look at the social, cultural, or financial status of the animator. The quality of work should be the only factor, shouldn’t it?

    • Always a sticky problem. I once heard that you were considered an animator when someone who was an animator called you an animator. However in this day and age a lot of shorts are considered animation even though they have little to know actual frame to frame movement.

      • I always assumed it was like any other art or profession: if you create an animated film (or animate), you’re an animator. If you do it well, then you’re a good animator.

        In that case, I do agree that it’s a problem if just anyone considers themselves a “good animator”.

  • That’s some good information but I’m still left questioning… why?

  • Craig

    This is just Disney expressing their disapproval for the fact that their sponsorship didn’t buy enough votes to steamroller every entry in every category each year.

    • But the objection came from Ed Catmull. I don’t really see him as the typical “greedy squash all competition” type, do you?

      • Craig

        I don’t see it as greediness; I see it as more of an ego thing, e.g., “Disney / Pixar should win everything all the time like we do in all other venues; otherwise we take our marbles and go home.”

      • It seems that Ed has some legitimate concerns. It really seems a bit ridiculous that Kong Fu Panda swept Wall-E out of all the the Annie’s in 2008. Dreamworks is a larger studio then Pixar or Disney, if each of their animators get a vote, then I think it is unfairly skewed in Dreamworks favor. Is there really any rules built up that allows curtain people to vote on curtain subjects? Why should a character animator vote for Animated effects? I think it is the problem with both Academy and Annie Awards, the voters are not forced to really study the categories they are voting in or movies they are voting for (not saying some of them do study).

      • I think “Kung Fu Panda” was a superior film to “Wall E”. I’m sure people will disagree, but “Wall E” fell apart after they left Earth. Character development and well thought out plot was replaced with preachy commentary on the environment. The use of live action humans didn’t help, either.

        Tai Long’s prison escape and the rope bridge sequence cemented “Kung Fu Panda” at the top of best animated film that year. Many Annie voters agreed.

      • Floyd, You are not doubt more involved with animation then I am. However, you are going against the majority of critics when you say that Kung Fu Panda was a far better movie. Wall-E had less then half the duologue that Kung Fu Panda has, they needed to rely on more limited and subtle animation with the main Character Wall-E. You see many animators embrace the limitations of Wall-E (and the rest of the robots) and there are great animated scenes including Wall-E discovering the red light and Wall-E being brought back to life at the very end. I think more then just Victor Navone should of been nominated for character animation in Wall-E. The Screenplay that was written for Wall-E was nominated for many other Award Shows including the Academy. However, Kung Fu Panda, who hadn’t been nominated for it’s screenplay in any other Awards Shows, won it for the Annies. I also have a problem with UP winning Best Picture and Director while losing in every other category. You would think that if they were good enough for two of the greatest awards in the Annies, it would make sense that it was because they had the best music, or animation, or maybe design. I am not saying that Kung Fu Panda did not deserve some of the awards it got, however the award system does seem to be skewed in Dreamworks favor, I think Ed is not too egotistical, there seems to be good reason to rethink how the Annies should work.

      • For me, Wall E started to go downhill once they left Earth. The humans regaining control of their destiny was nice, but it felt under developed and kind of tacked on. Why should I care about the humans? They trashed their planet and allowed themselves to be controlled by machines. It just wasn’t a strong movie to me. On animation alone, yes, a lot was done with the limited shape and form of Wall E, but Eva was bland in her limited form.

        On the other hand, the tortoise in Kung Fu Panda was great to watch, and he stole nearly every scene he was in. The well choreographed battle for the dumpling in “Kung Fu Panda” was excellently executed.

        The point is, Wall E may have lost out on some awards, but it lost to a great film. In doing so, I see no reason to pull out of the awards. It’s not like they lost to “Sharktale”.

      • BT

        I’m just a fan, not a part of the industry, but from the outside looking in it stunk up something foul that Wall-E didn’t get *any* of the awards that year.

        I personally don’t know anyone who thinks Kung Fu Panda is half as good as Wall-E, but it’s a pretty good movie so if it won most of the awards I would be a little puzzled but chalk it up to different tastes. But for it to completely sweep against such an original and profoundly moving film just seems absurd and impossible. When I read about Dreamworks having all of their animators eligible for voting and other studios not doing the same thing that seemed to explain it.

        So it seems to me like exactly the opposite of what Craig suggests – Disney/Pixar were tired of being steamrollered over by Dreamworks. Does anyone know what the rule changes they were requesting were, and if so were they unreasonable requests?

      • I understand that you thought Kung Fu Panda was better then Wall-E. You have very legitimate reasons for thinking Panda was better. However with the public at large the movies seem to have been liked about evenly, with Wall-E slightly ahead in box office revenue. With the critics Wall-E beats out Panda by quite a bit when you look at the over all critique (I am judging based on the overall number I got from mrqe.com). Also if you look at other Award shows such as the Golden Globes and Academy, Wall-E out beat Panda in both animation categories and was nominated in many more categories then Panda was. Then when we get to the Annies Wall-E is completely shut out to Kung Fu Panda. There seems to be something wrong with this picture. I am not saying Wall-E needed to win Best Picture for me to not have a problem. But I do not think it is unfair to say that the Annies are unfairly skewed. I think that the main thing we need to figure out is what changes have the Annies made and why were those changes not good enough for Disney/Pixar. Understanding that would give us a little more clarity. Floyd Norman compares it to Disney/Pixar picking up the basketball and quiting on the Annies, however, if the information Ed Catmull said is correct and the Annies said that no further changes would be made to address Disney’s concerns, it seems that the Annies are really the ones quitting on Disney.

  • Apparently Disney feels too many unqualified voters are involved.

    I do recall joining ASIFA years ago and being surprised that I, a mere wannabe, was getting a ballot to vote on such things.

    Does anyone know what the actual dollar amount of Disney’s sponsorship was vs. the total of all sponsors?

    Possibly this flap is worth more in publicity to ASIFA than the dollars were.

    • Steve Gattuso

      “I do recall joining ASIFA years ago and being surprised that I, a mere wannabe, was getting a ballot to vote on such things.”

      Wannabe or no, you still had sufficient interest in animation and knowledge of the art to be able to find the organization, and your critical facilities should not be overlooked simply because you aren’t a professional. This creates a two-tier of “haves” and “have nots” that I expect will be more exploited by the studios as time progresses, to the detriment of smaller, independent work.

      I was very upset by this decision, and have held my peace until I could be sure, but I believe this goes against the original foundation of both the Annies and ASIFA. I am still pondering what I will do when my membership comes up in November.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        That part of the thing annoyed me too (know a few people who have stated wanting to resign when their membership comes up). It seems the ability to have a voice and participate in an award ceremony far outweighs the objectives of the organization itself, but I guess since you’re paying for it, and the economy we’re in, it does factor in a lot. It certainly sucks to be in the Have-Not group here.

  • Kevin

    Having read the items about this issue on the TAG Blog and on Michael Sporn’s Blog, I’m trying to see what misinformation they put out. By ‘secondary reporting’ do you mean comments that appeared on those blogs? Random comments are a lot different than secondary reporting.

    Also, is this a new thing that individual artists can submit their work from, say, a big-studio feature film? When I asked about this a few years ago, I was told that an actual producer must be involved in such submissions. Has that changed, or was I given incorrect information before? (and please don’t think I was asking about submitting my own work — I thought the best individual work at certain studios wasn’t always reflected in who the studio chose to submit, and wondered how the process worked). If a producer doesn’t have to be involved, I have to wonder how readily individuals can get approval to submit work from films that aren’t on DVD yet, or work that they need studio approval to show (like development work, character designs, etc.). I really hope the Disney/Pixar artists and animators are well represented in the Annie categories, and I’m wondering how this will work in the real world.

  • Mike

    I agree with Steve. ASIFA is not an organization of animation professionals, it is of animation fans. The rule changes are going to backfire on Disney. With only pros allowed to vote, Dreamworks membership advantage is only going to carry more weight.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      It’s like being E3 and wanting to distance yourself from the “others” by splitting in half. We can only hope this may put itself back together one day.

    • Paul N

      The voting changes were instituted by ASIFA, not Disney. ASIFA sent out the notice that said you had to apply to be cleared to vote.

      • Ethan

        False. Jerry said above the Variety article is fair and accurate. I do tend to disagree with Jerry on a daily basis :-P but he IS on the Asifa board of directors, I see no reason to contradict him here.

        That article states that the Asifa acted under Disney’s pressure. We can easily deduce today the extent of that “pressure”. Which wasn’t even enough for Catmull, who requested nothing less than having the animation studios business men deciding the voting rules, destroying the independent ideology of the Asifa.

  • In my mind, calling for an advisory committee and getting turned down shouldn’t equal a pull out from the awards. It seems a lot like taking the ball and going home when you don’t get your own way.

    It’s nice to see this posted on the Brew by the way. I was wondering if it would be mentioned at all. Good job.

  • Makes me wonder if Disney would pull out of the Oscars should the voting procedure not satisfy them?

    Having heard both sides, I remain embarrassed by Disney’s self serving decision.

  • Ron

    I’m trying to look at this in a way that doesn’t make Disney/Pixar look like petty losers (who happened to have won more than losing) but I really can’t thread that needle. Kung Fu Panda was a really fine film, as is Dragon. Is Catmull really not able to see that? Was Rocky really superior to Network, All The President’s Men and Taxi Driver? Does it really matter if the overall recognition got people out to the theaters? In what world have award shows been always fair and scientific? They are promotional venues and a chance for a sense of community for people who don’t take it too seriously.

    Obviously Pixar/Disney is too serious to be part of the community.

    • Liesje

      I just used the old Rocky/President’s Men reference today. Nice to see someone else do so every once in a while!

  • barney_miller

    Soooo… Pixar sweeps year after year (even with DW perceived voting advantage), but DW sweeps one year and it’s a problem. I still don’t get the logic of this argument.

  • As VFX Soldier clearly stated over on the Animation Guild Blog, Disney/Pixar have won 12 Annie awards, while Dreamworks have only won 2.

    Also, to assume that voting members of Dreamworks, Pixar or any other studio for that matter vote based purely on where they work would insult those members. I am not a voting member, but I thought both Wall.E and Kung Fu Panda were both fantastic films, with great stories and character animation in both. But if the majority voted for KFP, then at the end of the day, that’s what everyone has to accept.

  • Mister Money

    How come non-theatrical, 2D action-adventure animation never even gets nominated for the Annies???

    And how come all the Best Animated Video Game nominees are all based on cartoons? Aren’t *ALL* video games “animated”?

    • Steve Gattuso

      There’s been plenty of 2D action stuff nominated in the past, and more than a few that have won accolades.

      But the VG category has been a sore point for me since it started. I agree, the title should just be “Best Video Game,” which might just focus on overall work rather than just who made the prettiest pictures. After this year’s Annies, there was a fellow from Activision who showed up at the board meeting after the Annies to complain at how there was no VG award this year. This happened because (FINALLY!) the panel was made up of actual games people and they didn’t think any of the submitted entries were deserving of the award. Antran did a song-and-dance for the guy and wouldn’t let me tell the truth, but if he’s reading this, here’s the skinny:


      (Tron: Legacy may be an extremely rare exception this year. No bets.)

      I spoke to the guy after the meeting and trying to explain the concept of originality and quality, using “Okami” as an example, and he thought I was talking about “next generation” material (Okami is a game for the PS2, hardly next gen) and “motion capture” (which he denigrated) Thick as a brick.

  • Robert

    I think this whole thing basically has to do with how easy it is to buy the Annies. If a company like dreamworks buys every one of their employees a membership and makes sure they vote dreamworks(and don’t think they do not), then the voting is skewed. Pixar/Disney does not buy every employee a membership. Also, I have heard that alot of the voting and nomination process for the Annies is pretty rinky-dink. Many people just don’t know what they are talking about. I’m not saying I agree with the pull out, but Aisfa needs to really look at how they do things. I feel like the Annie awards are so low budget. The VES society is way more professional in the short time they have been around. If only Animation had an organization that was as good as ones in live action… Maybe we would get more respect.. It bugs me that animation artists don’t seem to have much of a backbone and get taken advantage of at every corner… Where is the leadership?

    • Kevin

      “If a company like dreamworks buys every one of their employees a membership and makes sure they vote dreamworks(and don’t think they do not), then the voting is skewed.”

      Robert, I know conspiracy theories are popular, but you don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about. I worked at DreamWorks for 10 years, and you’re wrong. I never saw any hint, at least in the animation department, that we should vote for DreamWorks’ projects/artists, or even that we should vote at all. Most of the people I talked to over the years didn’t even take the time to vote. In my discussions with those who did vote, I was always impressed by how thoughtful people were, and how no one felt any obligation to vote even for projects we’d worked on. Among my cohort, if someone thought Pixar or Disney or Blue Sky had done the best work, that’s how they voted.

      Maybe things have changed in the few years since I left DreamWorks, but from my perspective the idea that providing the perk of ASIFA memberships equates with ‘buying votes’ is more fantasy than reality. A simple check of actual Annie Award winners supports that.

  • The Ghost of Warner Bros. Past

    Annie Award Winner: Hey! I won an Annie Award!

    Everyone on the planet who is not in the animation industry: What’s an Annie Award?

    Annie Award Winner: It’s like the Oscar of the Animation industry.

    Everyone on the planet who is not in the animation industry: Then why have I never heard of it?

    Annie Award Winner: Because you’re not an industry professional. Only industry professional can vote on it.

    Everyone on the planet who is not in the animation industry: Oh. Okay. Well, good for you. Hey, I hear Disney/Pixar is starting its own animation awards show…honoring the best in animation every year. Do you think you’ll win one of these Disney animation awards?

    Annie Award Winner: I dunno. Where can I sign up?

    {Good luck, Annies!}

  • The reality of the situation is that given their current production slate, longevity of artist employment, and overall morale at the Disney studio proper, they are less and less a part of the animation industry. They are no longer a guiding force in animation or a goal for a starting animator to shoot for. This latest action just reinforces that fact.

  • Floyd, I have to agree with you.
    All this does is show how little respect Disney/PIXAR has for artists.
    If the studios won’t even back their own artists….What does that say?? I cannot imagine a studio doing this with the Oscar’s or Golden Globes. Are animators that unimportant to the industry? And yet, animation brings in the biggest box office returns… Hmmm…..

  • I think specifically Ed Catmull’s greatest concern is that the Annies are not being a very good representation of the Best animation. If a movie like Wall-E beat out Kung Fu Panda in critical review, Box office earnings, and every other big award show that they competed in, such as the Golden Globes and Acedemy Awards, and then was SWEPT by Kung Fu Panda in the Annies, there is obviously something wrong. If it was the Annies that said they are no longer willing to negotiate, it seems more like the Annies are quitting on Disney.

    I think the information we need to know is what changes have the Annies made and why are they not longer willing to negotiate with Disney?

  • Ron

    Kung Fu Panda made more money in total than Wall-E, just as a point of fact. And it’s not like it was badly reviewed by any stretch. Really, I think what worked against Wall-E is what I heard from just about every animator I talked to about it, “Great first half.” On the other hand, with Panda the usual response was, “Wow, that was a lot better than I expected.”

    And then there’s the fact that I think some of the animators at the other studios were starting to feel that Pixar had a sense of entitlement when it came to collecting awards and kudos. Given the recent events, I can’t imagine where they got that idea.

  • If you look at the general critical review for Kung Fu Panda (http://www.mrqe.com/movies/m100006179) and then look at the general critical review for Wall-E (http://www.mrqe.com/movies/m100007029?s=1). Wall-E out beats Panda by quite a bit. You look at the revenues the movies got in general, it comes to about a tie. Then we look at the rest of the big award shows they face each other on, and Wall-E out beat Kung Fu Panda by a lot. And, then most of you guys are trying to say that it was “fair” that in the Annies Kung Fu Panda completely swept Wall-E? I think it is obvious there is a problem, it should not matter what company the movie comes from, if it is the best it is the best. Even if Wall-E was not judged to be the best in over all picture at the Annies, how could Kung Fu Panda out beat Wall-E in music and writing, witch was never mentioned in any other big award show for Kung Fu, but was for Wall-E.

  • Jay

    @Jacob: So should the Annies be decided on what other awards movies have gotten?

    Maybe things just worked out for DW. Maybe there is no conspiracy. Maybe the entire animation community decided DW did an exceptional job and decided to give them a tip of the hat. And they truly deserved it.

    Personally, I would re-watch Panda over Wall-E. Both are great films and people should be proud of the work they did on them, but all this bickering and studio wars just hurts the industry as a whole. Skipping out of the Annies will surely make some people go “Well, this and that movie won this year ’cause Disney/Pixar wasn’t there.. Ha-rumph.”

    That is quite unfortunate.

    • There is a reason Jay that Wall-E won at those other award shows. Now I am not making a argument that Wall-E needed to win best picture. However, Wall-E was SHUT OUT by Kung Fu Panda in the Annies. Kung Fu Panda even won in writing and music. Wall-E was nominated in many award shows for their music and writing, Kung Fu was NOT. The fact that in the Annies people thought that Kung Fu was a better written film then Wall-E tells me that they are either bias or uneducated in that curtain field of animation. Do you think it is far that All Dreamworks animation employees have the ability to vote for the Annies when that is not the case with they other studios? Why do you think a Character animator should vote for something like Character design or music? That is not there expertise. No denying that both Kung Fu and Wall-E are good movies, I favor Wall-E more the Kung Fu, there are a lot of other people who do as well. I think the bottom line is that the Annies are giving up on Disney by saying they are no longer willing to negotiate.

  • Ethan

    It could be a preemtive damage-control move. They just hit the “panic button”.

    Does it look like the nominations of Chris Sanders and Nico Marlet are enough for them to panic ?

    Which artists stand a better chance to win if only verified professionals can vote, instead of the manipulated fan base ?

    It can go either way, but it looks like Disney made sure it won’t mean anything, unless Disney wins.

  • Ethan

    Just a little thing I want to add. The Variety article, while accurate in facts (according to Jerry), is deceptively illogical :

    1. They said the reason KFP have won is because DW have paid their artists the membership fee (is 75$ such a big deal when your salary is like 115k/year, and you have to take the time to vote while in a prod crunch?).

    2. Disney pressured the Asifa to change the rules so that ONLY animation professional would be able to vote. In other words, they openly blamed the animation fans for their loss.

    The above 2 points are in complete opposition. The press manipulated the public’s opinion and the two-face, double standard attitude is obvious now.

    The funny thing is that after that change, the categories voted by all (including non-pro) went to Pixar, while the others (voted only by pros) went to many different studios, including Pixar, and not in DW’s favor at all. Any assumption that voting is tilted toward DW is crushed now.

    If the request that was denied by the asifa is in fact that “Studio Execs” should decide the voting rules, then Ed Catmull is not the great honest exec I thought he was. Maybe someone told him to “Make it suck less!!!” and he complied ? I want to believe it, because I respect Ed Catmull, and I don’t want him to be responsible for this.

    I mean how can they argue that Business Men should decide artistic merit ? WTF is that ?

    I regularly expressed my disdain about the Asifa’s decision to ditch all their members who don’t work in the industry (without any reason given to these members), but I applaud them for putting their foot down this year. They are being bullied, and they stood up to it. I didn’t know this was happening, and I want to publicly apologize to the Asifa for my reaction last year, I didn’t know.

  • Anthony

    I usually never comment on stuff online, but as an animation student, this has been something that i have been following closely. Personally, I cannot help it to support Disney’s decision.

    In regards to the KFP/Wall-E controversy: At the time of those Awards I was not an animation student and was following it from an outsiders perspective. However, having had seen both films, it felt incredibly fishy, and knowing that each member of the Dreamworks team gets a membership with voting privileges to ASIFA is, in my opinion, A game of dirty politics on the part of Jeffrey Katzenberg.

    Furthermore, I think that Mr. Catmull was right to call for the advisory council. I think this would have been a good step in protecting and representing the interests of smaller studios from the Dreamworks Juggernaut.

    If the Annies are to be taken seriously, then I think that serious rules need to be changed, and the voting decisions made by ASIFA, need to be re-evaluated.

    With that said, I felt it necessary to withhold my support and membership from ASIFA. I hope things can change, because the Annies are one of my favorite award shows.

  • Joe

    “Makes me wonder if Disney would pull out of the Oscars should the voting procedure not satisfy them?”

    The Oscars aren’t rigged in their voting the way the Annies are.

    “I think “Kung Fu Panda” was a superior film to “Wall E”.”

    Then your taste in film is sorely lacking. Wall-E wipes the frickin’ floor with Kung Fu Panda in so many ways, that it’s not even debatable. The fact that an inferior film swept a far superior film in every category, proves that Dreamworks bought the awards.

    The Annies have no credibility at this point. Without Disney and Pixar, they’re downright insignificant.