Behind the scenes with the animated Oscar noms

Five animated features and five animated short films are nominated for the 84th Academy Awards. We check out the nominees and present new interviews with Puss in Boots helmer Chris Miller from Dreamworks and La Luna director Enrico Casarosa and producer Kevin Reher from Pixar.

During Oscar week, the nominated animated features and animated shorts will be showcased in two separate Academy events. Director Brad Bird is hosting Shorts! on February 21st with the filmmakers behind the live action and animated short films, while actor Patton Oswalt hosts the Animated Feature Symposium on February 23rd. Both events will take place at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, CA.

Animated Features

Puss in Boots

Dreamworks Animation has two films in the animated feature nominees list, with Chris Miller’s Puss in Boots and Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s Kung Fu Panda 2. For Boots, artists not only expanded on the fairytale nature of the characters established in the Shrek films but also took the production to a whole new level. Below, fxguide’s Mike Seymour chats with Chris Miller about the film.

You can also check out our previous Puss in Boots coverage, with this article looking at the work of visual effects supervisor Ken Bielenberg and effects lead Brett Miller. We also spoke to colorist Jeff Olm in this fxinsider podcast about color grading the film in stereo.

Kung Fu Panda 2

In this sequel to the original Jack Black starrer, director Jennifer Yuh Nelson oversaw the creation of stunning backdrops, elaborate fight scenes and complicated characters that still fit into the Kung Fu Panda world. One interesting aspect of the film’s production was the technique for creating evil peacock Lord Shen’s feathers. At SIGGRAPH Vancouver, fxguide heard first-hand from DreamWorks Animation about the artistic rendering approach of the feathers.

Lord Shen

Dreamworks had earlier developed a feather system for the character Crane in the first Kung Fu Panda movie. For Lord Shen, the Dreamworks team separated the styling and rendering of feathers from modeling, grooming and lamination, which gave artists the ability to iterate over each of their individual parts. Each feather consisted of a shaft and two vanes. A feather plugin generated straight hair-like barbs which grew orthogonal to the shaft and tangent to the vane surface. Artists then styled the straight barbs, using procedural or texture maps, with density, width factor, split force, turn, curl and bend controls.

Artists also developed ‘guide curve based barb styling’ for Lord Chen’s feathers, and, to deal with much of the fire lighting in the film, adopted a particular shading and lighting approach. Their plugin adopted adaptive density controls and had the ability to generate particles using two sided vane surfaces instead of thin hair-like barbs. This was crucial for enabling point based global illumination and translucency on the feathers.


With Rango, director Gore Verbinski and ILM leapt into a whole new genre of animated features that also relied on new kinds of production techniques. These included having the voice actors perform their roles altogether in minimal sets – dubbed ’emotion capture’ – and using virtual sets to guide the layout of shots (not to mention tapping into ILM’s incredible history of visual effects and animation artistry to produce the characters and environments).

Rango: a progression from storyboard, rough layout, animation to final shot

Here’s our fxpodcast with ILM animation supervisor Hal Hickel, and our interview from FMX with ILM visual effects supervisor Tim Alexander and ILM Singapore CG supervisor Patrick Cohen. Also, thanks to our media partners at The Daily, Mike Seymour visited ILM to see how the studio created the virtual sets for the town of Dirt.

A Cat in Paris

Directed by Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli, A Cat in Paris is a traditional hand-drawn animated film realized in a specific graphic style by French studio Folimage. You can find more information about the film at the official website.

A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita

Directors Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal also relied on hand-drawn animation to complete Chico & Rita, a story about two musicians in 1940s Cuba. However, much of the movement was based on real footage of people shot in Havana in 2007. Again, you can find more information at the official site.

Chico & Rita

Short Films (Animated)

La Luna

Pixar’s La Luna, nominated in the Short Film (Animated) category, tells the story of a young Italian boy who accompanies his father and grandfather to work for the first time as they encounter the enchanting power of the moon. fxguide saw the film at SIGGRAPH Vancouver, and Mike Seymour was able to interview both director Enrico Casarosa and producer Kevin Reher. Check out fxguidetv #133 for a look at the film and a discussion of Pixar’s previous shorts.

A still from La Luna
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

This hybrid miniature/computer animation short from Moonbot Studios and directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg has already been incredibly successful, not only as a short animated film but also in the form of an iPad storybook app. fxguide talked to artists from Moonbot in this article. You can also watch the entire film below.


Patrick Doyon’s hand animated Dimanche follows a boy who finds entertainment in elongating coins on a train track during a visit to his grandparents house after church. Watch an excerpt from the film below.

A Morning Stroll

Here’s the delightful synopsis for Grant Orchard’s short A Morning Stroll, produced by studioAKA: ‘When a New Yorker walks past a chicken on his morning stroll, we’re left to wonder which one is the real city slicker…’. You can find more information here.

A Morning Stroll
Wild Life

Directors Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby set their film Wild Life in 1909, and tell the story of a dapper young remittance man who is sent from England to Alberta to attempt ranching. You can see the film here. Check out the making of below.