Cementing its status as the preeminent animation company of the ‘00s, Pixar won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for the third time in seven years. Up director Pete Docter collected his first trophy in six trips, a stunning run that includes original screenplay nominations for Toy Story (1995), Wall-E (2008) and Up. The helium-fueled adventure was further buoyed by Michael Giacchino’s Oscar for original score, the category in which he was nominated two years ago for Ratatouille.
Pixar received five nominations altogether, including Best Picture (snagged by The Hurt Locker, directed by San Carlos native and San Francisco Art Institute alum Kathryn Bigelow), Original Screenplay (awarded to Mark Boal’s for The Hurt Locker over Docter and co-writer Bob Peterson) and Mixing.
The Bay Area’s other representatives at Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre came home without a trophy. Rick Goldsmith and Judith Ehrlich’s The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, a strong contender for Best Documentary Feature, lost out to another suspense-filled documentary, The Cove. (When dolphin activist Rick O’Barry unfurled his "Text Dolphin 44144" sign, the cameras cut away to venerable activist Ellsberg in the audience.)
Industrial Light & Magic, which utterly dominated the visual effects category from Star Wars’s debut in 1977 through the mid-‘90s, taking home trophies like clockwork, received a nomination for its work on Star Trek. The Oscar went to Avatar, which was trumpeted (by its studio, and some journalists) as a new benchmark in digital effects even before its first press screening. ILM’s Hayden Landis, Ken McGaugh and Hilmar Koch did receive a Technical Achievement Award two weeks earlier for advancing the technique of ambient occlusion rendering, and Steve Sullivan, Kevin Wooley, Brett Allen and Colin Davidson were likewise honored for developing the Imocap on-set performance capture system at ILM.
Skywalker Sound’s crack veteran sound mixing team received yet another nomination this year, for Avatar. While all eyes seemed to be fixed on James Cameron’s blue creatures this year, all ears were attuned to The Hurt Locker, which collected the Academy Award.
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