Ani shorts crowd heavy on major studios

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The animated shorts that caught Oscar's eye Tuesday exemplify how the form has become a viable means for studios to develop young talent and experiment with new technology.

Of the five nominees for animated short film, three were from major studios: Pixar's "Lifted," which centers on a young alien who is learning how to abduct a human on Earth; the Walt Disney Co.'s "The Little Matchgirl," based on Hans Christian Andersen's tale about a young girl who sells matches during winter; and "No Time for Nuts," from 20th Century Fox's Blue Sky Studios, which stars "Ice Age's" Scrat in a time-traveling journey to protect his beloved acorn.

They will compete against Mikrofilm/National Film Board of Canada's "The Danish Poet," about a poet whose creative well has run dry, and Szimplafilm/Kedd's "Maestro," in which the title character prepares for his big moment just before the curtain rises.

John Lasseter, chief creative officer at Pixar and Disney Animation Studios and the principal creative adviser at Walt Disney Imagineering, said Pixar has been making shorts for a while, and now he's bringing that focus to Disney, which bought Pixar in January 2006.

"Pixar has been making short films for a long time, and it's a very important thing that we do," he said. "It helps us develop young talent and technology. There's not a big commercial market for them, but we do them anyway. With every Pixar film, we want a short in front of it; we want to overdeliver."

At Disney, Lasseter hopes to release new shorts as well as classic Disney cartoons along with the studio's feature films.

He added that the shorts offer invaluable experience for up-and-comers -- from directors to supervising animators to lighting designers to modelers.

"Doing a feature film at any animation studio is a big investment of money and time, and it takes four years on average to make an animated feature film," he said. "This gives (young talent) the opportunity to lead a project and (for us) to try them out and let them grow. Pixar is a director-driven studio, and this gives everybody the opportunity to step up to the next level and show their stuff. It's a wonderful program."

Lasseter said that by experimenting with shorts, Pixar also has learned new techniques for animating hair and clothing, among other details. For example, with "Geri's Game," the Oscar-winning short about an old man playing chess that played in theaters before showings of "A Bug's Life," Pixar was able to refine the details of clothing and human movement that later was used in "Monsters, Inc." and "The Incredibles."

"It's such a fantastic art form," Lasseter said.

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