Magazine article Variety

Shorts Long on Artistry

Magazine article Variety

Shorts Long on Artistry

Article excerpt

OSCAR'S ANIMATED SHORTS category typically showcases both studio and indie projects created with a variety of techniques. This year's nominees reflect that diversity - to the point where they may present apples vs. oranges choices for Academy voters. ELLEN WOLFF

Dear Basketball 1

Directed by Glen Keane

"Dear Basketball" has arguably brought more attention to the Academy's animated shorts category this year by virtue of its stellar pedigree alone. Written and narrated by basketball superstar Kobe Bryant as his farewell to the game, the 2D-animated film was directed by the legendary Disney animator Glen Keane, and boasts an orchestral score by the multi-Oscar-winning composer John Williams. While Keane has created unforgettable characters for "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin" and "Beauty and the Beast," this represents the first Oscar nomination for him personally. "Dear Basketball" is also the first time Williams has scored a short film in his long career - and he took a break from scoring "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" to do it.

Only a dozen artists crafted the five-minute film at Glen Keane Prods. in L.A. "You need a very small team to do something specific stylistically," Keane says. "I've always thought of animation as sculptural drawing, and this film was a chance for me to stretch as a fine artist."

Unlike animating the fictional characters of his Disney career, Keane's team faced the challenge of capturing the signature moves of a recognizable athlete. "I'm constantly keying into rhythm, so when I'm drawing sports I'm looking for rhythms," he says.

While studying footage from Bryant's long career, Keane could see how the athlete used the rhythm of his movements to misdirect his opponents. "We found wonderful illusions in the way Kobe used gravity-defying moves. Making 'Dear Basketball' was like animating a magician."

Garden Party 2

Directed by Victor Caire, Florian Babikian, Vincent Bayoux, Théophile Dufrense, Gabriel Grapperon and Lucas Navarro

"Garden Party" is also a sophisticated 3D-CG short, but it comes from a strikingly different source: six students from MoPA, a school that's continuing the prize-winning tradition of France's Supinfocom in Arles. It's a Buster Keaton-meets-Alfred Hitchcock aesthetic - with photoreal animated frogs in starring roles. "Everyone was involved in the script and 'croaking' with each other," says Victor Caire, who co-created the film with Florian Babikian, Vincent Bayoux, Théophile Dufrense, Gabriel Grapperon and Lucas Navarro. "There was an advantage to working together in one little room. Information travelled very fast, without the need for a huge pipeline. We were generalists. We didn't like the concept of 'one director' for a student film."

The scope of "Party" required the students to come up with tricks to visualize the mansion where the tale unfolds. "We crafted a 3D scanner in our garage, and learned how to use powerful software," Caire says. "We kept a lot of the environments in the film blurry so we could focus on smaller areas of details."

Their efforts took about 10 months, and following graduation they formed a collective called Illogic to create professional CG going forward. Caire admits they're amazed that "Garden Party" is the only student film among this year's nominees. "There's no word to describe our feelings about being Oscar nominees. We were still at school one year ago, so that's just crazy!"

Lou 3

Directed by Dave Mullins

"Lou," from perennially nominated Pixar, is a showcase for innovative techniques in 3D-CG animation. …

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