The 35th annual Annie Awards took on a new level of laughter this year in an event that successfully combined prestigious awards with huge menu of comic relief, and most everyone was in a grand mood. Winners trotted to the stage to deafening applause and cheers with a couple of standing ovations thrown in. It was by far the most fun I’ve had at the Annie Awards. It seemed it’s time has come, and is fully embraced by the industry as the ceremony where frivolity looks great in animation black.
The Awards kicked off with Best Animated Video Game, which went to Ratatouille by THQ. Best Home Entertainment Production went to Futuramas’ “Bender’s Big Score” and the awarded team accepted the trophy toting Writers Guild Strike signs. “This is a little bit awkward,” he deadpanned with mock concern. “We were planning on barricading the stage, but in light of tentative recent developments, we are going to grant a waiver to the Annie Awards.”
Jess Harnell and Charlie Adler, the voiceover actors for Ironhide/Barricade and Starscream in Transformers presented the award for Storyboarding in an Animated TV Production to Steve Fonti of Family Guy “No Chris Left Behind”. Harnell and Adler next presented the Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production to Tim Mathot for Ratatouille, the second award to go to Pixar, whose team was definitely going to be checking luggage for the flight home.
The highlight of the next award was the presentation, given by Tom Kenny and nine year old actress (in years but certainly not talent), Madison Pettis. Pettis, who possessed uncanny and impeccable comedic timing, especially for someone who still needed a stool to reach the mike, launched into a good SpongeBob imitation, threatening Kenny’s job security and prompting him to consider becoming a child actor. “You’re old,” she quipped flatly. “Yeah, but that could be my edge. How many child actors have 45 years experience? Next time we’re up for the same part, a precocious nine-year-old girl, we’ll see who gets it!” Pettis brushed him off stating he was “creepy”, and went on to present the award for Animated Effects to Deborah Carlson.
After a spoof Outer Limits reel featuring young Bill Mummy from the original Lost in Space and J. Michael Straczynskis’ Babylon 5, the now adult Mummy and his daughter Liliana from TV show Chowder presented the Character Animation in an Animated Television Production award to Eric Towner for Robot Chicken-Shadow Machine. He consulted his stack of Post-Its for who he wanted to thank, and credited his mother for giving him stacks of the tablets on which he created his first flipbooks, and his girlfriend who thinks he still does anime.
By now, the audience was ready to applaud for anything. Laughter and cheering accompanied every action, and my face was starting to hurt from smiling.
Ratatouille’s Michal Makarewicz won again with Character Animation in an Animated Feature Production. Makarewicz was trembling when he took the award, and generously attributed his success to the collaboration and support of Pixar’s conviction and compassion for each other and their craft.
It was time to give the awards of special achievement, and a bit of history on ASIFA (International Animated Film Association, or Association International du Film d’Animation), and some of those who have made the Awards possible. The next presenter was the person who conceived of the Annie Awards, and presented the award that bore her name: The June Foray Award, for “Significant and benevolent or charitable impact in the art and industry of animation”. Ms. Foray approached the podium with a cane and offered her first bit of wisdom as she held it aloft. “Never fall off a bar stool, especially when you are sober.” Foray listed the many achievements of recipient Jerry Beck, far too many to place here, including his blog cartoonbrew.com - though she admitted, “I don’t have a computer so I haven’t seen it,” to the amusement of the audience.
I had spoken to Beck earlier in the evening and he admitted he was flustered at the idea of receiving the award, but none of that was apparent when he took the stage. He calmly thanked everyone for the recognition, and talked about his heroes Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Max Fleisher, and Walt Disney, and how important it is to keep that work alive and continue their work, and properly care and archive our animation history.
Another prestigious award, the Special Achievement Annie Award went to Edwin R. Leonard for seeing the need to adopt Linux as common industry platform. He convinced the studios to get behind him, then pushed for hardware and software vendors to create what was needed to allow the studios to move to Linux. DreamWorks became the first animation studio to adopt a complete Linux pipeline, and as others followed suit, Linux has become a standard OS for VFX studios around the world. “Ed’s work has paved the path for a spirit of technical collaboration across studios that continues to benefit the industry today.” Leonard first recognized his colleagues at DreamWorks for their contribution and collaboration, and thanked the many in the industry that had made the universal transition possible. Shortly after he followed with a thanks to his assistant who “just keeps me sane”, and his wife who has the most important job of raising his three children while he was “playing with Linux”.
The Ub Iwerks Award went to Jonathan Gay, Robert Tatsumi, and Gary Grossman for their contribution of Flash software launched in 1996 that, according to a 2007 survey, is now installed on 96% of internet-enabled desktops worldwide. They still attributed credit to the talented artists that use it: “We were in the business of making paint brushes and easels; we’re just making tools, and it’s really when an animator is having fun with Flash using their creativity, their talent, and their vision, that’s when the magic happens.”
The Character Design in an Animated Feature Production went to, hmmm, who would it possibly be? Carter Goodrich, for Ratatouille. “I want to thank Pixar for making such a great movie. I don’t know how much to do with that, but it was fun working on it.” He, as did several other Pixar winners, thanked Jan Pinkava as well as Brad Bird and his coworkers for giving him such a great opportunity. Production Design in an Animated Feature Production was next which went to….drum roll…. Harley Jessup for Ratatouille, who was grateful to his wife for her support, even though she never got to go on his research trips to Paris, where they would spend their days exploring the sewers and their nights eating at fine restaurants, never washing their hands in between.
Jessup also thoughtfully dedicated the award to Character Designer Dan Lee, who they lost to cancer during production. It was one of the few momentarily solemn moments of the evening. But it picked up with the presentation of the Animation Production Artist award which went to John Clark, who was particularly happy because for the first time in his 25 years of surfing, he got to write off his surfboards and his trips to the beach, and was grateful to those times he skipped school. “To all those people who said I was wasting my time surfing…” Insert gesture here.
Then on to Best Animated Short Subject presented by Patrick Warburton, Annie Nominee for Bee Movie. Introduced by Kenny as the “man who could do things wit his mouth that Paris Hilton could only dream of”, he at first appeared to forget his line. “Who wants to see my underwear?.... Who wants to see my boxers? My drawers? My skivvies? Oh, let’s look at some shorts!!” He blamed his mishap on the Writers Strike. The trophy went to Your Friend the Rat from Pixar, surprise, surprise. Best Animated Television Commercial was awarded to Acme Films for Power Shares Escape Average, a project they created in three weeks on Flash.
Three of the most prestigious trophies were awarded next, the Winsor McCay Awards. The first went to animation historian, educator, lecturer, and Academy award winning animator John Canemaker, who admitted backstage that he was nervous. “This award is more important [than his Oscar],” and he thanked everyone from the bottom of his heart. Glen Keane, son of cartoonist Bill Keane, director of Disney’s upcoming film Rapunzel, and whose influence on Disney has earned him endorsement of one of the “Nine New Men,” was the second to receive the award. He has worked as supervising animator for Beast in Beauty and the Beast, and title characters for Tarzan, Pocahontas, Aladdin, and Little Mermaid. He took the stage to another standing ovation. He thanked many of his own heroes, but the one that drew the first “awwwwww” of the evening, elicited almost involuntarily from the crowd was when he thanked his wife, “Linda, who was the inspiration for [Little Mermaid character] Ariel, and also my live-in own special fairytale princess.” John Kricfalusi took the third Winsor McCay. His unique style such as the Ren & Stimpy Show has made his stand out as one of the most “original and outspoken directors.” He was accused of making every step creative, and now shares his knowledge on his blog, “All Kinds of Stuff.”
Voice Acting in an Animated Television Production went to Eartha Kitt for her work in Emperor’s New Musical. And Voice Acting in an animated Feature Production went to Ian Holm for his work in Ratatouille. Writing in an Animated TV Production was awarded to Ian Maxtone-Graham and Billy Kimball for their wok in The Simpsons “24 Minutes” and Writing in an Animated Feature Production went to, of course, Brad Bird for Ratatouille, who claimed to be terrible at acceptance speeches so asked Patton Oswalt, the voice of Remy, to write the speech for him. He began to read, “What do you do when God hands you a miracle? That is the question I had to ask myself when I heard Patton Oswalts’ voice. His performance is equal if not greater than Daniel Day-Lewis… as we struggle to bring the animation art form… up to genius level- or, as we say in Hollywood, we tried to pull off a Patton…”
Directing in an Animated TV Production went to Seth Green for his fantastic work on Robot Chicken Star Wars. It was revealed that winning the award was the perfect way to celebrate his birthday. And Directing in an Animated Feature Production obviously went to Brad Bird, who by now had to have a hernia carrying all his trphies. The second award for Nickelodeons’ El Tigre was Best Animated Television Production for Children, and Aardman Animations got their clay fingers on Best Animated Television Production for Creature Comforts America.
And certainly last but not least, Best Animated Feature. Do I even need to say? Ratatouille took the prize, and was accepted by Producer Brad Lewis and Brad Bird, sparing Bird from the necessities of coming up with yet another acceptance speech. He praised Bird for his craftsmanship and creativity, something no one can deny.
The theater emptied out into the After Party, where there were several spreads of wonderful food, multiple open bars, free t-shirts, and a band. Winners laughed with friends and polished their trophies. A melting pot of industry icons were everywhere, but I encountered Brandon Bennett, an intern at Zoic who was experiencing the event for the first time and through new eyes. “More so than seeing the films on screen, to see the talent on stage and be around the legends of the industry is totally inspiring. I’m looking forward to being a part of it.” You go, Brandon.