Animator Ian Whitlock on the set of "The Pirates! Band of Misfits." (Aardman Animations / Sony…)
In a golden age for computer-generated animation, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has rewarded a comparably antique technique — stop-motion animation — with three of its five Oscar nominations for animated feature.
"Frankenweenie," directed by Tim Burton, "ParaNorman," directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell, and "The Pirates! Band of Misfits," directed by Peter Lord, were all made using stop-motion, a homespun, arduous process that requires animators to adjust a puppet's movement frame-by-frame to tell a story.
The category's two other nominees — "Brave," directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, and "Wreck-It Ralph," directed by Rich Moore — were made using CGI.
This is the first time that three stop-motion movies have been nominated since the animated feature category was created in 2001.
"What it says to me is that people really do love this medium," said Butler, whose zombie comedy "ParaNorman" is the second feature and second Oscar nomination for the tiny, Hillsboro, Ore.-based Laika Studios.
"They respect it as an art form. They don’t just respect how it looks. They understand how much of a Herculean effort it is to make these movies — the hands-on, workshop-full-of-crazy-people aspect of it."
The animated feature category didn't exist when "Pirates!" helmer Lord directed his last feature, "Chicken Run," in 2000.
"I feel like a pioneer," said Lord, whose British-based studio Aardman Animations has been credited with helping revive the medium. "When we did 'Chicken Run,' it hadn’t been seen for a long, long time. I don’t like to talk about it as being some ancient craft like blacksmithing, but it is a craft."
Stop-motion animated movies traditionally cover quirkier subject matter, with smaller budgets and smaller box-office returns than digitally animated films. The combined domestic box office of the three nominated stop-motion films — $121.8 million — is less than either of the other two nominees alone ("Brave" pulled in $237.3 million and "Wreck-It Ralph" $179 million).
Among the studios in the animated feature category, Disney fared particularly well, collecting three nominations, for Pixar's "Brave," Walt Disney Pictures' "Frankenweenie" and Walt Disney Animation Studios' "Wreck-It Ralph."
Some high-profile CG-animated movies, including "Rise of the Guardians" and "Hotel Transylvania," were passed over for nominations, as were some well regarded foreign entries, such as the French film "Zarafa" and the Japanese drama "From Up on Poppy Hill."
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