Oscars bring foreign flair to animation race

LOS ANGELES Fri Feb 24, 2012 1:03pm EST

Oscar-winning Spanish film director Fernando Trueba (L) and Spain's most famous and successful designer Javier Mariscal pose during a photocall to promote their animated feature-length film ''Chico & Rita'' in Madrid February 21, 2011. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Oscar-winning Spanish film director Fernando Trueba (L) and Spain's most famous and successful designer Javier Mariscal pose during a photocall to promote their animated feature-length film ''Chico & Rita'' in Madrid February 21, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Sergio Perez

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oscar organizers on Thursday night celebrated this year's nominees for best animated film, including two foreign language movies that use traditional hand-drawn animation in an era when computer images dominate the art form.

This is the tenth year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has given out an Oscar for animated movies, and it is the first time two foreign language films -- France's "A Cat in Paris" and Spain's "Chico & Rita" -- made list of nominees.

"A Cat in Paris" is a French crime drama by Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gangol and Spanish romance "Chico & Rita" is from Javier Mariscal and past Oscar winner Fernando Trueba, who won the foreign language film award for 1993's "Belle Epoque."

"We are very surprised because normally animation is an American market," Mariscal told Reuters. "It's very strange that Hollywood saw our film and liked it enough to nominate it."

The makers of the two movies were joined by fellow nominee, director Jennifer Suh Nelson with "Kung Fu Panda 2." "Puss in Boots" director Chris Miller was absent and "Rango" creator Gore Verbinski sent a taped message thanking the academy.

Actor Patton Oswalt, best known to animation audiences as the voice of Remy in the 2007 Oscar winner "Ratatouille," hosted the event. Clips of the movies were screened, and Oswalt and audience members asked questions that focused mainly on story and technique, especially the difference between traditional hand-drawn, 2D animation and computer generated movies.

Mariscal confessed that he often uses digital technology, but for "Chico & Rita" he and Trueba found traditional 2D best suited the story of a musical couple that journeys through the jazz clubs of Havana, New York and Las Vegas.

Notably absent from this year's nominees is Pixar Animation, the studio that has dominated the field with computer-animated movies such as "Up," as well as Steven Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tin Tin," also created using digital images.

"Tin Tin" really is the prototype of movies where computers are maybe over utilized," said "A Cat in Paris" co-director Alain Gagnol. "The special visual effects in there push so far that the movie almost resembles a computer game."

He went on to say that perhaps "A Cat in Paris" and "Chico & Rita" were honored as a backlash to the ubiquitous use of digital animation, but confessed that although the figures in his movie were hand-drawn, the colors were done on computer.

While "Kung Fu Panda 2" is digitally animated, there are extended sequences using traditional hand-drawn technique. "I love hand-drawn animation," Nelson told Reuters. "It's just an amazing emotionally powerful way of telling a story. And I think they really rewarded a wide-range of techniques this year."

Nelson speculated on the return of 2D even as digital storytelling proliferates in theaters. "I actually think it's totally viable as a feature length film," she told the audience. "It's more possible now than it was five years ago. There are so many good things coming out in 2D, and there's shockingly amazing, talented artists that do it and love to do it."

(Reporting by Jordan Riefe; Editing By Bob Tourtellotte)

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