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2017 Oscar Nominations: Animated Feature, Animated Short, VFX

Nomination for the 89th Academy Awards were announced this morning.

We have published filmmaker reactions from the nominees here. A full analysis of the animation and vfx categories can be found below.

In addition to the three categories that we cover—feature animation, short animation, vfx— there were also animation-related nominations in the original song category, where two of the five nominations belonged to “Can’t Stop the Feeling” from Trolls and “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana.

Congratulations to the nominees in the animated feature, short, and vfx categories. Here they are:

Animated Feature Film
  • Kubo and the Two Strings
    dir. Travis Knight
  • Moana
    dir. Ron Clements, John Musker
  • My Life as a Zucchini
    dir. Claude Barras
  • The Red Turtle
    dir. Michael Dudok de Wit
  • Zootopia
    dir. Rich Moore, Byron Howard

Notes on the Feature Animation Nominees:
No Oscar category has been so controlled by one film company as the animated feature has been by the Walt Disney Company, which has won the Academy Award for eight out of the last nine years. The company is currently favored to win yet again for Zootopia, its ninth win in 10 years.

There is significant reason at this point to question the Academy’s voting procedures and pressure them to institute more fair voting rules that would prevent one studio from owning the feature animation category. A good start would be requiring Academy voters to actually view the films before voting on them, rather than letting their kids tell them who should win, a practice that we have anecdotally heard is widespread amongst voters.

The big snub on this list is Your Name. As we wrote yesterday, “If the Academy doesn’t recognize Your Name with a nomination, it will be impossible to take the category seriously this year.” The level of filmmaking craft on display in Your Name, simply put, was on another level. It boggles the mind that a group of animation professionals were unable to recognize this. Then again, there were likely other factors at play here. The Academy has exhibited a very clear bias toward any Japanese animation that is not produced by Studio Ghibli. In 16 years, they have nominated a Ghibli film six times and never a Japanese feature by any other director.

Speaking of Ghibli, Michael Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle earned a nomination. Though Ghibli is a co-producer on the film, it’s a European animated feature made by a European director in multiple European studios. Red Turtle had been quiet on the award circuit all season long, but it’s a worthy animated feature that has touched many people deeply and it’s nice to see it recognized.

Also, great to see recognized: Claude Barras’ My Life As A Zucchini, which as we’ve pointed out, gleefully breaks all the conventions of American kids’ films. Produced for a mere US$8 million, the Swiss-French co-production was made for 5% the cost of Disney’s Zootopia.

On the American side, Disney’s Zootopia and Laika’s Kubo and the Two Strings each earned nominations. The two films have been trading awards back and forth for the last few months so it would have only been a surprise to not see one of them on the list. Disney also earned a second nomination in the category for Moana.

Animated Short Film
  • Blind Vaysha
    dir. Theo Ushev
  • Borrowed Time
    dir. Andrew Coats, Lou Hamou-Lhadj
  • Pear Cider and Cigarettes
    dir. Robert Valley
  • Pearl
    dir. Patrick Osborne
  • Piper
    dir. Alan Barillaro

Notes on the Animated Short Film Nominees:
WOW! Blind Vaysha got nomination.

WOW! Pear Cider and Cigarettes got a nomination.

Both films are essentially one-person films — powerful artistic statements by singular filmmakers. They are also bold choices by the Academy.

The films have also had very different trajectories on their road to the Oscars. Blind Vaysha has been a major festival hit, winning awards left and right. It’s made by the prolific Theo Ushev, an animation machine who pumps out films at lightning-pace, made all the more remarkable by the top-notch quality of each new project he makes.

On the other hand, Pear Cider was virtually ignored by the major animation festivals. The film is gritty, real, and raw–in other words, not typical festival fare. At over 30 minutes, the film’s length also worked against it on the festival circuit. When it comes to animated shorts though, the Academy doesn’t listen to festivals much. That can be both a good and bad thing. It’s a bad thing when they choose an absolute travesty as a winner, like The Chubbchubbs! (I will continue to point this out until my last breath), but other times they’ll rescue an excellent film that was overlooked by the animation community, like John Canemaker’s The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation. Rob Valley’s Pear Cider falls in the latter category, and it’s great to see it recognized.

Pixar’s Piper, directed by Alan Barillaro, picked up a nomination. It’s a fine technical accomplishment, but as a film, it doesn’t aspire to the heights of the previous two films. Intriguingly, Piper is up against Borrowed Time, a film made by two current Pixar employees. Directors Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj made the film in their own time and with their own money, but they had access to Pixar’s technical resources through the company’s professional development program. Pixar may rethink helping its employees make Pixar-style films on their own time, especially now that its own employees are competing against the company.

Finally, Patrick Osborne, who won an Oscar a couple years ago for Disney’s Feast, is back with Pearl. The film was originally produced as a interactive experience for the Google Spotlight Stories initiative, but the version that is nominated here is a cinematic, non-interactive version of the project. Google got shortlisted previously for Glen Keane’s Duet, but this marks the company’s first Oscar nomination.

Looking at the 10-film shortlist from which these nominees were selected, the Academy made a solid selection in 2017.

Visual Effects
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Doctor Strange
  • The Jungle Book
  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Notes on the Visual Effects Nominees:
Kubo and the Two Strings, an animated film, for best vfx? How often does that happen? Not very. The last time a 100%-animated film was nominated in the category was 1994—it was Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Cartoon Brew’s vfx editor Ian Failes observes that the nominations for both Kubo and Deepwater Horizon show “a clear recognition of films that might not at first seem like huge vfx films, but clearly these are actually big visual effects films. They just don’t seem like it because arguably their vfx work is more invisible than the others. This possibly continues a trend from Ex Machina last year.” Failes thinks that both films have a decent shot at winning because “Academy voters are going for the ‘less CGI’ thing, even though that’s actually not the case.”

The more conventional favorite is The Jungle Book, although its vfx approach, which is digital animals and environments, comes across as a bit of a one-trick pony. Rogue One with its mix of practical fx, digital vfx, and digital humans, shows greater range.

In terms of snubs, both Arrival and Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them were key contenders that missed out. Arrival might not be so much of a surprise—the film also failed to receive any VES nominations—but the creature work in Fantastic Beasts, both impressive and important to the story, was representative of an awards-worthy vfx film.