SCV’s animated ties to Academy Awards continue

In the Pete Docter and Glen Keane film “Soul,” Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) is a middle-school band teacher who gets the chance of a lifetime to play at the best jazz club in town, when things don’t go as planned. Courtesy of Pixar

The SCV’s close ties to the entertainment industry could often be noted through the locally filmed productions nominated each year for the Academy Awards.

In recent years, the Oscar-nominated movies with Santa Clarita scenery include “Ford vs. Ferrari,” “A Star is Born,” “LA LA Land,” “Whiplash,” “Titanic,” “American Sniper” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” and “Django Unchained,” among others. 

This year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic-related halt to production left the Santa Clarita Valley without major ties to a local nominee — at least not for ties from the valley’s unique settings.

However, the Santa Clarita Valley community of artists, and its world-famous arts college, California Institute of the Arts, once again contributed to the list of nominees. CalArts alum not only comprise many of those working on and off camera to make our favorite live films, it also has an animation program that’s contributed to some of the industry’s biggest animated films.

CalArts alum Glen Keane, left, and Kobe Bryant celebrate their Oscar win for their short film, “Dear Basketball.” Courtesy of the Academy’s Matt Petit/A.M.P.A.S.

This year was no exception: The Best Animated Feature category had two of the five nominated films directed by CalArts alumni. 

CalArts alum and director Pete Docter received a nomination with fellow producer Dana Murray for the Pixar feature “Soul,” a comedy-drama that was also nominated for Best Original Score and Best Sound.

This nomination marks Docter’s fourth in the category, a record for Best Animated Feature, which was introduced by the Oscars 20 years ago. 

In fact, since the category was introduced at the Academy Awards, 13 of the winning films were directed, produced or written by CalArts alumni, with the last nine consecutive Animated Feature Oscars going to CalArts alumni.

Netflix’s “Over the Moon” was nominated for the Best Animated Feature for The 93rd Oscars. Courtesy of Netflix

CalArts alum Glen Keane also received a nomination in the category for “Over the Moon,” an animated musical produced by Netflix, with producers Gennie Rim and Peilin Chou.

In the Short Film (Animated) category, another CalArt alum, Madeline Sharafian, was nominated with Michael Capbarat for “Burrow,” a Pixar short film.

“I’m thrilled for Pete Docter and Glen Keane on their feature film nominations for ‘Soul’ and ‘Over the Moon,’ and Maddie Sharafian for her short film ‘Burrow,’” CalArts President Ravi Rajan said. “These three alums attended CalArts at three different moments in time, with Maddie most recently finishing in 2014, demonstrating our history in animation and our continued prominence in the field.”

Pixar’s “Burrow” was nominated for the Best Animated Feature for The 93rd Oscars. Courtesy of Pixar

Founded by Walt Disney himself, CalArts’ Experimental and Character Animation programs are unrivaled in the world, educating successive generations of filmmakers who define the industry, whose level of talent Maija Burnett, director of the Character Animation program, considers simply remarkable.

“Even though I’m director of the program, I’m ultimately just a fan of the students and the faculty and the staff and how everyone works in concert to create films,” Burnett said. “It’s amazing to see the alumnus get out into the world and how they collaborate for decades to come.”

In fact, many of the Oscar-nominated films were worked on by a number of CalArts alumni, such as “If Anything Happens I Love You,” another Oscar-nominated, animated short film, which though wasn’t directed by CalArts alumni, the film’s animated director Youngran Nho and animators, HaeIn Michelle Kim and Julia Rodrigues, were all CalArts grads.

Netflix’s “If Anything Happens I Love You” was nominated for the Best Animated Feature for The 93rd Oscars. Courtesy of Netflix

“This was one of the first professional productions they’ve been on, and … it goes to show these collaborations and friendships that happened in the program really then help to spur what one does outside of the program,” Burnett added.

While COVID-19 might have impacted the film industry, resulting in a majority of animated film nominations, these films have actually been in the works for years.

“It all really comes down to just really hard work. Animation is a ton of hard work, frame by frame, and all the technological wrangling that has to happen,” Burnett said. “There are so many moving parts and to just have audiences see, appreciate and enjoy (the films) is the biggest thrill because the sheer process of putting it all together is so complicated.”

Oscar nominee and CalArts alum, Pete Docter, arrives at The 88th Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016. Courtesy of the Academy’s Phil McCarten/A.M.P.A.S.

Nevertheless, since the shutdown, filming has quickly begun to ramp up and return to the SCV, with Evan Thomason, an economic development associate who leads the city’s Film Office, saying that it’s been going “really strong” in recent months.

“We’re seeing a lot of activity in our local studios and movie ranches, in addition to location filming,” Thomason added. “Episodic television has traditionally been the bulk of the filming we see in Santa Clarita, but with a backlog of projects waiting to get off the ground, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next year sees a lot of activity for both film and television production in Santa Clarita.”

The 93rd Oscars is scheduled to air 5 p.m. Sunday, April 25, on ABC. 

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