‘Monsters U’ creators on Oscars, Newman, and underappreciated designers

Pixar has won Best Animated Feature at the Oscars seven times out of nine tries. One of its only two losses was in the category’s inaugural year when “Monsters Inc.” was beaten by “Shrek” in 2001. This year its prequel, “Monsters University,” could redeem the franchise, but director Dan Scanlon and producer Kori Rae look at the Oscar buzz as reward for a group effort.

“Mostly it’s recognition of the entire crew and the work that the team did,” says Rae of potential Oscar recognition. “We had a really amazing, exceptional crew … they went above and beyond.”

They single out a number of their creative collaborators for praise, including production designer Ricky Nierva. I wrote last year about whether production designers for animation are unfairly shortchanged when it comes to awards recognition, and they agree. Rae explains of the design process, “We have to build it from absolute scratch – every leaf, every blade of grass.”

Adds Scanlon, “I’m not quite sure why it’s seen in any way as different … Our production designers really do work with me and we talk about every little detail … Every little thing can be created in a way to support the story and I think that’s what leads to these really rich worlds that people hold on to for years.”

Though production designers have never been nominated at the Oscars for animated films, composers often are, and “Monsters U” has the benefit of Randy Newman. The longtime Disney/Pixar collaborator was nominated twice for “Monsters Inc.,” winning Best Song – his first career Oscar after 16 nominations.

Scanlon remembers one particular scene in which Newman’s music was influential: “That scene where Mike [voiced by Billy Crystal] is touring around the university … there’s something about the music that Randy added there – suddenly it didn’t feel like a college student’s first day at school, it felt like this college student’s first day at school. It made all of that feel very personal.”

In a close race for Best Animated Feature, “Monsters Universitycurrently ranks third in our overall racetrack odds, behind Hayao Miyazaki‘s “The Wind Rises” and Disney’s upcoming “Frozen.”

Newman, however, is an underdog in the race for Best Score, ranking 10th.

Review the contenders below and make your predictions:

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