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An animated award legacy

© 2010 Disney/Pixar

Toy Story 3” bounded into the theaters with a $110.3 million opening weekend — evidence of the enduring appeal of the vision of Pixar’s chief creative officer, John Lasseter. Lasseter received a Special Achievement Academy Award in 1995 for creating the first full-length computer animated film: the original “Toy Story.” Fifteen years later, he has helped guide the now-beloved cast of characters back to the screen in 3D.

Lasseter has two Oscar statuettes to his name, but he received early encouragement from the Academy as the winner of consecutive Student Academy Awards in animation. He first won in 1979 for “Lady and the Lamp,” where he debuted the precursor character to Pixar’s unofficial mascot Luxo, Jr., and claimed a repeat victory in 1980 with “Nightmare.” He now serves on the Board of Governors of the student ceremony.

"Lady and the Lamp" (1979) © John Lasseter and Luxo, Jr. © Disney/Pixar

“He’s a very big supporter,” said Ric Robertson, executive administrator of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. When he took the podium to accept the Oscar for “Toy Story,” Robertson said Lasseter “gave a nod to the Academy and its support for student filmmakers.”

One of those winning filmmakers singled out “Toy Story” as a milestone within the industry.

“‘Toy Story’ really showed what could be done with a great story and great animation, no matter the format,” said Jim Richardson, who received the student honor in 1988 for animated short “Cat & Rat.” “This movie was really able to get its message across without drawing all the attention to the new technology.”

The field of animation is on a hot streak with the continuing popularity of the “Shrek” franchise, not to mention a steady stream of Pixar success stories, from “Finding Nemo” to “Ratatouille” and “Wall-E.” Each of Pixar’s 11 feature films has debuted in the top spot at the box office.

Robertson acknowledged this trend.

“In the 30 years that I’ve been at the Academy there have clearly been sort of ups and downs for feature animation, but we’re definitely in a golden age.”

The 2010 Student Academy Awards were distributed earlier this month in Los Angeles. Winners were announced in four categories, including animation, and the young filmmakers had the chance to meet with industry leaders. Need to Know checked in with several past winners to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the world of animation and provide a preview of the next generation of animators.

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  • Jim Morin

    Jim – GREAT JOB. It’s a relief to see hand-drawn animation and it’s unbeatable charms hasn’t entirely disappeared. Loved the film.