Oscar Week at the Academy threw together the nominees for shorts on Tuesday (hosted by Sean Astin) and features on Thursday (hosted by “Frozen” directors Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee). Rites of passage and storytelling challenges were common talking points, but the discussions came alive when they divulged their eureka moments.
1. “Big Hero 6”: In Don Hall’s quest to find a unique, huggable robot, he discovered his inspiration while visiting Carnegie Mellon, where the robotics team had perfected inflatable, vinyl bots for health care assistance. Baymax was born and Hall had the linchpin for combining a story about grief with a superhero origin subplot.
2. “The Boxtrolls”: The ambitious Dickensian look had to match the characters and it wasn’t jelling for director Anthony Stacchi until he recruited head of story Graham Annable to be co-director. He had a wonderful handle on the trolls, thanks to a successful test, which became the most intricately designed puppets in Laika history. The result was the perfect blend of steampunk, rich decor and Monty Python-inspired antics.
3. “How to Train Your Dragon 2”: Turning a popular franchise into a more ambitious trilogy required a tragedy to propel the reluctant Hiccup to accept his role as leader of the Viking tribe. As inspiration, Dean DeBlois drew on the loss of his own father at the age of 19, which forced him into taking on the mantle of adulthood.
4. “Song of the Sea”: Tomm Moore believes it’s important to pass on his folkloric Irish heritage to a new generation to keep the storytelling tradition alive. But it wasn’t until he and his son discovered that seals were being killed by angry fishermen that his story crystalized with greater urgency.
5. “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”: For his Studio Ghibli swan song, Isao Takahata wanted to make an antithetical statement against the tide of CG by stirring the imagination with hand-drawn pictures with lively, expressive lines, wash coloring and flat surfaces. But it would have no meaning without exploring why the princess hates her life and longs to return to the Moon.
6. “The Bigger Picture”: For the hand-drawn/stop-motion hybrid made in memory of her grandmother, Daisy Jacobs was compelled to animate the most emotionally distressing scene by herself, alone in a corner. She didn’t want anyone to come into the room during the two-week duration because it was the best way for her to connect with the painful moment in which a son must confront that fact that his mother is dying.
7. “The Dam Keeper”: The friendship between the bullied Pig and empathetic Fox, who demonstrates the power of drawing as a creative outlet, reflects the world view of directors Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi. Ideally, we all strive to be like Fox but in reality we’re more like Pig: confronted with abuse and misunderstanding. And that’s where animation comes in to help us cope with pain and to make the world a better place.
8. “Feast”: After capturing a year’s worth of meals in bite size clips, Patrick Osborne found inspiration for his short about a family coming together around food. But what if a dog inhabited the negative space? Thus, the winsome Winston became the catalyst for a greater understanding of friendship, love, romance and sacrifice.
9. “Me and My Moulton”: Torill Kove drew on childhood memories of growing up in Norway in the ’60s to fashion a funny and poignant story of three sisters who desperately want to be like their peers. But they have unconventional parents with idiosyncratic tastes and when they ask for a bike and finally get the weird-looking yet innovative Moulton, they learn the importance of individuality and compromise.
10. “A Single Life”: Joris Oprins recalled how he spun a record in college with Job Roggeveen and Markieke Blaauw and when it skipped, they fantasized about traveling back and forth in time. Their marvelous short came together 10 years later around the notion of glimpsing your past and future in a frenzy of excitement, and the sudden realization that life is over before you know it.