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Canadian nominees dominate Oscars animated short film category

A scene from the animated short film "Weekends," is shown in a handout. 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 each other and joke that they'll venture to the Los Angeles celebrations in Canuck attire. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ HO

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.

Toronto-raised 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 story of an older Chinese woman 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.

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. It features many Toronto landmarks, including the CN Tower.

Jimenez, who wrote and directed the 15-minute film, said the 2-D story is inspired by his own experiences with his parents’ split — spending the weekdays with his mom in Hamilton and weekends with his dad in Toronto.

He spent more than 10 years making it, 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, at companies including Disney Feature Animation and Pixar, where he currently works.

“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 worked with Shi at Pixar and is friends with her, and has 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.”

“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.

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press