Former Disney Exec Calls Pixar-Boycotted Annies 'Sad'

"I understand there's lot of issues, and the Animated Film Society needs to work on that," Peter Schneider tells THR.

"The animation community has been a tight community. Now that animation is starting to have great success in the commercial world, in Hollywood, to see it in fracture in terms of people's support, it makes me sad," Peter Schneider, former president of Disney Feature Animation and Walt Disney Studios, told The Hollywood Reporter at Saturday's Annie Awards, which saw DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon sweep the animated feature categories in the midst of a Disney boycott over judging procedures.

Disney/Pixar contends that the way in which the Annies are judged favors DreamWorks Animation. The results of this year's competition are not likely to change that perception: DWA won 15 of the 24 competitive awards, with Dragon sweeping the feature animation categories, where it won 10 trophies including best animated feature. Meanwhile, Toy Story 3, which Disney and Pixar did not officially submit or campaign for, went home empty-handed, and Pixar ended up with just one award, for the animated short Day & Night.

In the television categories, DWA's Kung Fu Panda Holiday was the big winner, collecting five trophies, including best animated TV production. "I understand there's lot of issues, and ASIFA (the Animated Film Society, which produces the Annies) needs to work on that," Schneider said. "But it makes me sad because we are all one community doing the same thing: trying to make great movies."

Schneider and renowned Disney producer Don Hahn accepted a special achievement honor during the Annies, where they talked with THR about the production of Tim Burton's upcoming stop-motion movie Frankenweenie, the 3D conversion of The Lion King, 3DTV -- and the Disney boycott.

Hahn, who produced such classics as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, said that there was a sense of something missing during the event.

"I don't have any particular comment (on the issue), I don't know the particulars," he said. "To me it is all about the artists. Whether they are here tonight or not, we can still celebrate the artists."

Dragon producer Bonnie Arnold added, "I feel for the artists who weren't able to submit their work."

Annie emcee Tom Kenny, who voices SpongeBob SquarePants, addressed the  topic during his opening remarks, with a series of jokes about belt tightening as the event lost a sponsor in Disney.

"It has been a controversial year," he said. "A sponsor pulled out. I won't name names, but I need to address the elephant -- the flying elephant -- in the room. We hope to see them again."

At the Annies, Hahn and Schneider accepted a special award for Waking Sleeping Beauty, a 2009 documentary that traces the history of Disney Feature Animation from 1980-84. "(The documentary) celebrates so many artists, to receive an award for doing it is the icing on the cake," said Schneider, who produced the film.

Added Hahn, who directed: "To me, it is a real tribute to the animators and artists that we got to work with. They are the ones who are really getting the award."

Windsor McCay Awards for career achievement went to Brad Bird, Eric Goldberg and Matt Groening. Bird, Oscar-winning director of Pixar's The Incredibles and Ratatouille, accepted the award via a pre-recorded video message from Vancouver, where he is directing the upcoming Mission: Impossible film. Accepting their awards in person were Goldberg, who was supervising animator of Genie in Disney's Aladdin and co-director of Pocahontas, and The Simpsons creator Groening.

Several attendees talked about their upcoming work, including Hahn, who is exec producing Frankweenie, which is in production in London.

"We are shooting stereo assets and converting it after it's done," Hahn said. "It's a little bit of a hybrid (of 3D cinematography and 2D-to-3D conversion). This being puppet animation, you have everything you need on the set to create a 3D movie. It's great old-fashioned Ray Harryhausen-looking animation; I think people are going to go nuts over it."

He also offered an update on the 2D-to-3D conversions of Lion King and Beauty and the Beast.

"We finished Beauty last year," Hahn said. "Lion King we just saw a couple reels of it yesterday, and it is amazing. It takes the movie to a whole new level. We are mixing it so it is even more immersive. When the movie was made, it was all stored digitally. We pulled the movie back out; we were able to dust off the pixels and repurpose it and [convert] it for 3D. Disney has 10 or 12 3D titles this October, including Beauty and the Beast and Lion King: to try to incentivize people to get 3DTVs."

Looking ahead, Schneider said: "What is so great about the animators in this community is they keep pushing the edge. You'll see 3D everywhere, it is a great tool."

John Cohen, producer of Despicable Me, said of animated 3D TV programming: "I think we are still probably a few years away from that. The challenge is that it is still a very time-consuming thing to animate both eyes for 3D. As soon as there is 3D on TV -- especially where you don't have to wear glasses -- I think it is going to take off."

Illumination Entertainment's Despicable Me was nominated for seven Annies, and when asked about a sequel, Cohen offered, "It's is still a way's away, but we are starting to think about it now."

Next up for Illumination is Hop, which opens April 1. Cohen related that it is the story of the son of the Easter Bunny, voiced by Russell Brand, who is about to be handed over the family business from his dad (Hugh Laurie).

"He'd rather be a rock 'n' roll drummer, so he runs away from home. He leaves Easter Island, where Easter is created, and ends up in Los Angeles. It is a live-action movie with a live-action character played by James Marsden. It ends up kind of a buddy comedy."