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Two CalArts grads vie for same Oscar

Writers/directors Chris Buck and Chris Sanders nominated for Best Animated Feature Film

Posted: March 2, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 2, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Two California Institute of the Arts graduates will wait in anticipation tonight for the most-sought-after envelope in show business.

Chris Buck, writer and director of “Frozen,” and Chris Sanders, writer and director of “The Croods,” are nominated for the 2014 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film.

Buck, who graduated from the CalArts film and video program in 1978, won the Golden Globe in the same category in January, alongside fellow director Jennifer Lee.

This is his second Oscar nomination, making the same category for “Surf’s Up” in 2008.

Just missing Buck in school, Sanders graduated from CalArts in the same program in 1984.

Tonight’s race marks his third Oscar nomination in this category. Sanders was twice nominated for Best Animated Feature Film, first for “Lilo & Stitch” in 2003 and later for “How to Train Your Dragon” in 2011.

“You live and breathe these movies because you become so involved in them,” Sanders said of his body of work. “You’re riding your bike down the beach, and you’re thinking about this movie — I was sucked into it.”

Born into an artistic family, Sanders discovered his love for art and story at a young age.

“All I knew was I loved to draw, and I loved to make movies,” said the Glendale resident.

Through a brush with luck, Sanders found CalArts. His grandmother read an article from a newspaper in Denver, his hometown, about a school that focused largely on training in animation. CalArts was roughly 20 years old when Sanders applied.

“It was the one and only place I applied to,” he said.

At the time, most of Sanders’ peers attended school just long enough to land a job, he said. Though he was offered a job while attending school, Sanders was one of the few who decided to stick it out.

“It was my last chance to be in school,” he said.

Graduating with a satisfying number of art-school film credits under his belt, Sanders eventually made his way to Disney as a storyboard artist.

In his roughly 20 years with the animation giant, Sanders worked his way from story and character development to storyboarding to writing, and eventually, to directing. His early credits include work on “Rescuers Down Under,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” and “The Lion King.”

“Eventually, I pitched an original storyline,” he said.

Sanders had been sitting on the story of “Lilo & Stitch” for about 18 years before he pitched it to Disney executives. With a few slight tweaks and one condition, the story of a strange but loving little monster was born.

“They said, ‘We will make this film under one condition — it looks like you drew it,” Sanders said.

To ensure the success of this instruction, an analysis was commissioned to reveal exactly what made Sanders’ drawings look like Sanders’ drawings, he said.

Given his first shot at writing, however, Sanders was enamoured with the power of storytelling.

“I love story — it’s one of the least celebrated and most serious parts of the animation process,” he said. “And I consider it to be the part where everything happens.”

Animation, for example, gives life to what a lion does on the screen.

“But how does the lion know what he should be doing?” he said. “There’s a moment of translation (in storyboarding).”

During storyboarding, artists are confronted with the reality of the story, he said. They can find opportunities for theme and character development that weren’t already there.

“You’re the first person on the beach, hacking your way inland on the story,” he said.

And storyboarding was an excellent step toward directing, he said.

As writer and director of DreamWorks’ “The Croods,” Sanders committed about five years of nonstop work on the project, he said.

Directors Kirk DeMicco and Kristine Belson are also nominated alongside Sanders.

Though he isn’t walking the red carpet expecting a win tonight, Sanders favors himself a three-time good luck charm. Each time he has attended, someone next to him receives the win, Sanders said with a hearty laugh.

“(The Oscars) are really fun to see — something I’ll never forget,” he said.

Chris Buck was not available for an interview at the time of publication.



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