The Annie Awards: Fast Track Prognosticator to Animation Oscar Win and a Tribute to Animation Legend June Foray

Rich Moore Director of Wreck-it Ralph.

Rich Moore Director of Wreck-it Ralph. All Photo by Billy Bennight for Los Angeles Beat

 

 

Arriving early always makes an event seem to ramp in a slow manner. Like any other award event it will reach its peak speeding things along in dramatic fashion on the Red Carpet just before it’s official start. In that way the Annies are very simular to any industry awards show. The difference is for people outside Hollywood. For the people who inhabit these key disciplines in Animation they remain relatively unknown to the general public and yet provide a large segment of viable entertainment here in the US and the world at large. These Animators, Voice Over Talents and Directors are essentially unknown quantities to most, are rarely marketed to the general public, but their financial and artist contribution is felt everywhere. For these reason I was eager to take my place chronicling the Annie Awards. I took my place on the carpet to shoot these talented folks and pierce the vail, if only for a moment, of this energetic world of counter culture creatives.

I was joined by my pal Harrison Held (Sunshine Magazine) who was kind enough to arrange for me to shoot this event. He had acquired my pass and arranged my media check in. Outside of Royce Hall the sun was dimming and the trickle of Animators and Voice Over actors, sans publicist, holding for themselves, in some cases, their own introduction cards to broadcast who they were and for the award they were nominated. You have to hand it to them for having the fortitude and determination to press on through a gauntlet of photographers and press to make themselves known. None of this was appropriate fanfare for a giant in the industry. There was no introduction for this elderly and rather unassuming woman, who slowly came into my ken. It was June Foray, who is legendary in the animation world and who has impacted generations with her all encompassing V/O work. June is the voice of Rocky J. Squirrel and Natasha Fatale in the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Her credits are to numerous too mention here. But she has worked in all forms of V/O work from being the original voice of the Chatty Cathy to providing the voice of  Grandmother Fa in Mulan. She stood there before me in this beautiful dress and a small gold neck chain suspending a golden Rocky J. Squirrel about her neck. I greeted her and I snapped away to capture this moment. The night had much in-store for her. She was to receive the Tex Avery Animation Award. She continued on to be interviewed further down the line and then off to the reception inside Royce Hall.

June Foray on the Annie Awards: The First Forty Years

Photo Gallery after the jump

Others of note who attended the Red Carpet were Seth Green, who is particularly gifted in comedy, was being particularly serious with his wife in tow, Clare Grant. I have to say that at one point on the carpet Seth brought his A-Game GQ moment! This was followed by Leonard Maltin, this evening’s Annie Awards main host, rolling on the carpet with eased confidence. He knew how to tilt his head in the right manner to avoid the camera flash glare common when one is photographed under these circumstances. He shuttled on as others did, like: Mindy Sterling (Austin Powers), Matt Lanter (90210), Diedrich Bader (The Drew Carry Show) and Jessica Walter (Arrested Development) shuttled by catching the lime light. Howard Green, one of Disney’s top publicist, was there to receive the June Foray Award. It is rare for a publicist to have a moment of recognition and Howard took the honor in a gentlemanly way as he strolled past the cameras. Some of the women who sparkled on the carpet were Alexandra Bryman with her hand knitted evening dress, Diana Lansleen and Dina Sherman with their custom designed dresses. Some directors and producers had their moment too. Rich Moore (Wreck-it Ralph) and Steve Purcell and Mark Andrews (Brave) had a good sense of humor about them, while running the carpet. Towards the end, whole animation teams dominate the carpet. The most represented teams were Wreck-it Ralph and Life of Pi. These bundles activities and animation crews were the sign that the carpet event had run it’s course and the next move was the Awards show proper.

Harrison and I headed in, to rallied for the balcony seating, where there was a sure bet on finding a seat. Leonard Maltin soon took the stage to introduce the event and himself for the night festivities. The Annies were being streamed live. The night’s proceedings were generally smooth, but there were a few glitches and the teleprompter had its problems as things snagged at points. There were a number of high points during the evening. June Foray received the Tex Avery Animation Award. She was completely caught off guard and utterly surprised at receiving the award. David Derks produced the 40th Annie Webisode interview with June Foray where she chronicled her previous work that had ran earlier in the program. The video provided in a link below added to this moving moment during the proceedings. She received a standing ovation from an adoring crowd. Then there was the TMI moment with Mo Collins. Mo’s introduction of the next award recipient came with her dawning awareness that her pert nipples were publicly obvious to all in attendance. She intertwined this element of self awareness into her introduction with the story line for the next award recipient. Continuing with her steam of consciousness riff she acquired another epiphany that this was being streamed live. This stream of consciousness riffing blended with story line generated titters and lots of laughter from the audience. The next hilarity came when Steve Purcell and Mark Andrews, the producers of Brave hit the highest note of the evening. Their style choice of kilts were per Gilliam’s request for presenting the Winsor McCay Award to him. Terry Gilliam was of one of three recipients of the prestigious Winsor McCay Award. The two other recipients were Oscar Grillo and Mark Henn. Both are notable for their life time contribution to animation but it was Terry Gilliam’s over the top self deprecating acceptance speech via video that rallied cheers and laughter from all in the room! During the video exposé by Gilliam, he revealed that Terry Gilliam had died, while animating of an sequence of The Holy Grail for Monty Python Flying Circus in the 70’s. Here is where the video of that moment was inserted in the acceptance video to great effect. Gilliam insisted he should’t recieve an award on the merits of  him being dead for years. Gilliam continued by excoriating the artistic discipline by which this “Gilliam fellow” animated and exploited others fine art work with such elementary and crude animation techniques. Then again a Monty Python clip was inserted as an example of the animation to more laughter from the audience. Finally, Gilliam acquiesced and conceded to accept the wonderful award posthumously with graduated and humility for this Terry Gilliam fellow. All in Royce Hall responded to the aesthetic and spirit of Gilliam’s clever and witty delivery for an acceptance speech.  The video only further exposed the artistry of this remarkable artist and talented director. By the end of this moment the awards were near closing. Disney’s Wreck-it Ralph dominated the Animated Feature category and DreamWorks/Nickelodeon Dragons swept the Television category. Wreck-it Ralph garnered Best Animated Feature and Rich Moore received Best Director for the animated movie, while Dragons took best Animated Series and John Eng took best director. Animation Magazine covers this in a more exhaustive manner with all the related details of winners and losers at the Annie Awards.

This was not the end! In the “Charlie Sheen” understanding of “Winning” these folks know how to party. Harrison and I were moved by the zeitgeist of the Animated Culture surrounding us at the Annie Awards joined in the after party of fun, food and beverage. The after party was catered with fine food and fueled by a host of tasty beverages. The crowd was densely packed, where everyone was engaged in the festivities, freely associating and congratulating one another after what must have been a year of hard intense work. I sensed a really good vibe, where winners and industry peers freely joined in conversations and general congeniality. I easily flowed through the crowd and had my fill of the delicious the food offerings. I ran into Diana Lansleen (Actress & V/O Artist) with her lovely tunic/saree inspired evening gown. I was completely open to her request to photograph her and her friends. Photographic documentation is a passion of mine and it was an easy call under the unique circumstances.  In the process I was introduced to David Derks (Board member at ASIFA), Jean Thoren (President and Publisher of Animation Magazine), Brian Joseph Ochab, Patty Ochab, Jeff Jones (Voiceover Agent), Dina Sherman (V/O artist) and Mark Vulcano (Director at Heavy Iron Studios). It wasn’t long till I ran into Brooke Keeling (Cartoon Network), who I had seen earlier briefly but wanted to spend some time catching up. We were able to kibitz for a few. Then I ran into the potential Oscar winning director Rich Moore of Wreck-it Ralph for congrats and photos. Such a friendly guy! I saw Mark Caballero (Scree Novelties) once again after Brooke’s introduction for a follow visit and photo op. I was fortunate enough to run across the man that made it all happen, Frank Gladstone, ASIFA president. Frank was truly generous and allowed me time to properly capture him at the pinnacle of the evening’s most stellar moment and a job well done.

The Annie Awards born out of a simple idea to promote and honor animator’s artistry and creative work has revealed the vitality of these group of dedicated, focus and fun loving artist. The award ceremony clearly defined the scope and infulence of this community and culture that at one time was relegated to children’s entertainment alone. This spark of animation has exploded in a full on barn burner! I don’t see the flames diminishing or faltering for the foreseeable future. I’m sure it’s a bell ringer that will lead strongly into Oscar season resonating powerfully at this year’s Academy Awards.

 

 

 

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Billy Bennight

About Billy Bennight

Billy Bennight is a writer, photographer and wardrobe stylist with expertise and years of experience in these disciplines. His musical youth started as a Punk Rocker and has expanded into exploring many genres of music, with an keen interest in art, fashion, photography and writing. He shoots celebrity events and red carpets for PR Photos, Photoshot and The Photo Access/Corbis. His images have been published in Vanity Fair, People Magazine and The Los Angeles Times. He's very engaged in life. You can follow him on his Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/billybennightartist
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