Toronto-based animated short 'Bao' among Canadian Oscar nominees
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, January 22, 2019 8:48AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 22, 2019 9:04PM EST
TORONTO -- Canadians dominated the best animated short category during Tuesday's Oscar nominations, with three of the five films done by homegrown talent, who all know of each other and joke that they'll venture to the Los Angeles celebrations in Canuck attire.
"Two of them are from Toronto originally, as I am, so we can all go down wearing our Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys," said Vancouver-based David Fine, who is nominated in the category along with Alison Snowden for "Animal Behaviour."
"Or Toronto Raptors jerseys -- I'm more of a basketball fan," added director Trevor Jimenez, who got a nomination in the category for "Weekends" -- on the same day he and his wife were celebrating their wedding anniversary.
Domee Shi is also nominated for best animated short, along with Becky Neiman-Cobb, for the Pixar production "Bao." Shi is the first female director to helm a Pixar short film. The eight-minute "Bao" is the sweet story of an older Chinese woman in Toronto who gets another chance at motherhood when one of her steamed dumplings comes to life.
The category is rounded out by the Irish title "Late Afternoon" by Louise Bagnall and Nuria Gonzalez Blanco, and the Chinese/American production "One Small Step" by Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas.
Shi, who lives in California, said she woke up after the Oscar nominations because she's "paranoid about this type of stuff" and was pleasantly surprised to see more than 20 text messages congratulating her.
Both she and Jimenez studied animation at Ontario's Sheridan College and now work at the Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif.
"We're always really supportive of each other, because both of us are from Toronto," said Shi, who was born in Chongqing, China and moved to Toronto when she was two.
"I always looked up to him, because he was four years ahead of me and his student film 'Key Lime Pie' was so impressive.
"I remember being a starry-eyed first year like, 'Oh my gosh, Trevor's film is so awesome. What if I get to work with him one day?' So it's really cool that we're both nominated today for the same category."
Jimenez watched the nominations on a live stream in Berkeley, Calif., sitting beside his wife while Skyping his mother.
"I was speechless after," he said. "I just looked at my mom on Skype who was crying and then looked at my wife. Just a lot of love. One of the most incredible feelings I've had."
"Weekends" is a touching, hand-drawn look at a young boy shuffling between the homes of his recently divorced parents in the 1980s. Like "Bao," it features many Toronto landmarks, including the CN Tower.
Jimenez, who wrote and directed the 15-minute film, said the story is inspired by his own experiences with his parents' split -- spending weekdays with his mom in Hamilton and weekends with his dad in Toronto.
He devoted more than 10 years to the 2-D project, working with production designer Chris Sasaki, and shared every version with his mother to make sure she was comfortable with it.
"There's a lot of emotional truth in there and I think that's why it's also emotional for me, that my mom was there watching the announcement with me," said Jimenez, who has been a story artist for over a decade and has also worked at Disney Feature Animation.
"We've just been through a lot together ... us being around each other all the time and the ups and downs, just her raising me. I was the only kid, so it was just us."
Jimenez said he's had email correspondence with Fine and Snowden, a husband-and-wife filmmaking team who won an Oscar in 1994 for best animated short for "Bob's Birthday."
"I actually emailed David and told him I that watched 'Bob's Birthday' -- I rented it from the library when I was, like, nine," Jimenez said.
"It was the first time I saw animated nudity. I love that short. I love 'Animal Behaviour,' too."
"Animal Behaviour" was produced at the National Film Board of Canada and gives a comedic look at a group therapy session that includes a leech with separation anxiety and a pig with an eating disorder.
The 14-minute film was made with digital, hand-drawn 2-D animation and was inspired by the idea that "animals have similar issues to people but they don't get judged by it," said Snowden.
It's the fourth animated-short Oscar nomination for Fine and Snowden, who both write, direct and animate. Their first nomination was in 1986 for "Second Class Mail" and their second was in '88 for "George and Rosemary."
"Going to the event is incredible," said Fine. "I remember the first time I was in the washroom at the urinal beside Bob Hope and that was pretty thrilling. I said, 'Hi, Bob,' and he went, 'How ya doin'?"'
Snowden had a more nerve-racking experience at their first Oscars.
"I was terrified," she said. "I broke out in a rash."
Snowden and Fine met as students at Britain's National Film & Television School, where they both graduated in 1984.
"Animal Behaviour" is the couple's first animated short since they ventured into the TV world after "Bob's Birthday."
Watching their Oscar nomination come through on a live stream was a much different experience than last time around, when "a carrier pigeon" told them they were contenders, they joked.
"It was all done by landline and fax machine, so it is a different world," said Fine.
Other Canadians up for hardware at the Feb. 24 Oscars include sound mixer Paul Massey for "Bohemian Rhapsody" and set decorator Gordon Sim for "Mary Poppins Returns." The live action short film category also has two finalists from Montreal -- Jeremy Comte for "Fauve" and Marianne Farley for "Marguerite."