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SMU alumnus nominated for an Oscar

William Joyce for "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore"

January 25, 2012

William Joyce
William Joyce
SMU alumnus William Joyce ('81) has been co-nominated, along with Brandon Oldenburg, for an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film for "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore."

Joyce, who received a Distinguished Alumni Award from SMU in 2004, has created an enchanting world of whimsy and adventure in his award-winning, best-selling children's books, films and television. Read a Q&A with Joyce from the SMU Magazine about the time of the DAA. Joyce earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from SMU's Meadows School of the Arts in 1981, with a major in broadcast-film and minors in art and journalism.

The Oscar nominations were announced Tuesday and the winners will be announced February 26 during ceremonies at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

Two other SMU alumni — Stewart Mayer ('97) and Jason Hess ('99) — also had a hand in the production of the "Mr. Morris Lessmore." Mayer, who received a degree in cinema-television, is the inventor of the camBLOCK robotic camera system, which helped the film’s creators achieve what they describe as “a hybrid style of animation."

Stewart Mayer
Stewart Mayer

Mayer and camBLOCK operator Jason Hess, who earned a Bachelor’s in communications from SMU in 1999, spent a week filming the charming miniature environments constructed at Moonbot Studios. The sophisticated camBLOCK system “allows cameras to move in ways that can’t be done manually,” providing fluidity and accuracy, explains Mayer. Animated characters were later composited into the shots.

“Having the film nominated for an Oscar is amazing; it is a real validation that hard work and passion really can make a difference,” says Mayer. “Everyone went above and beyond for the film.  That combination of dedication, along with Bill and Brandon’s vision, created a beautiful film.”

"Mr. Morris Lessmore" Story Line (courtesy of the official website):

Inspired in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, “Morris Lessmore” is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story. Using a variety of techniques (miniatures, computer animation, 2D animation), award-winning author/illustrator William Joyce and Co-director Brandon Oldenburg present a hybrid style of animation that harkens back to silent films and M-G-M Technicolor musicals. “Morris Lessmore” is old-fashioned and cutting edge at the same time.

From The Los Angeles Times for January 23:

Animated short film “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” is the first film made by Moonbot Studios, but it’s certainly no trial run for the small animation and visual effects company. A favorite on the film festival circuit last year, the short boasts some innovative merging of animation techniques, has launched a successful companion iPad app and is in the running for an Oscar for best animated short.

The 15-minute film was produced by Lampton Enochs and co-directed by Brandon Oldenburg and William Joyce, who also penned the  screenplay. The three are also Moonbot’s founders, who came together to form the studio under unusual circumstances.

Until 2009, writer-illustrator-filmmaker Joyce was bouncing back and forth between two coasts, constantly traveling for work, including as a concept artist for early Pixar films such as “Toy Story.” Then he decided he’d spent enough time on the road and was determined to find a way to base his work in his native Shreveport, La.

Enochs, whom Joyce knew through mutual friends, was already working in the upstate town after being forced north by Hurricane Katrina. The two decided to start Moonbot together with Joyce’s frequent collaborator, Oldenburg, who was freed up to become a partner in the company when his plans to work on the film about Michael Jackson’s comeback tour were canceled upon the announcement of the pop singer’s death.

“It took a hurricane and the death of a superstar” to bring the three of them together, Joyce pointed out.

Read the full story.

See the complete list of Oscar nominees.

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