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Get animated

Next generation of animated films takes audiences into a rich and diverse galaxy.

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If you think Jennifer Aniston's hair requires a lot of attention for a "Friends" shoot, consider this: Of the four years it took to make the sci-fi film "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within," nearly a year was spent coiffing the 60,000 hairs on the head of its new digital Hollywood star, Aki Ross.

"Final Fantasy," the first digitally animated movie to feature photorealistic characters like Ross, is just one of many animated movies to challenge Disney's dominance in the brush-strokes and pixels domain this year.

In the past, only a trickle of animated feature films made it to the big screen. Now, studios like Sony, DreamWorks, and Nickelodeon have joined Disney in producing such a rich variety of animated films geared toward kids and adults, that Oscar has taken notice. Disney's coming "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" and "Monsters, Inc." are possible Oscar contenders in the new feature-length animation category next year. But they'll face stiff competition from films like "Osmosis Jones," "Jimmy Neutron," and "Shrek."

Animation is experiencing vibrant changes in both style and direction. "I think being able to go to worlds you've never been before, and to places you've never been before keeps people's imaginations alive," says "Shrek" co-director Andrew Adamson. "It's the public wanting to be refreshed with something."

Veteran Disney animation producer Don Hahn says the animation boom started when studios took notice of the success of "The Little Mermaid" (1989) and "Beauty and the Beast" (1991).

"I also believe that [with] movies like 'Men in Black,' 'The Phantom Menace,' and 'The Mummy Returns' ... I think you're seeing a blurring of the lines between what is animated and what is a live-action movie these days," Mr. Hahn says. "All that adds up to a reinvigorated medium."

In particular, people are responding to cartoon movies of the CGI (computer-generated imagery) kind.

"It's sort of the year of the CGI," says Nickelodeon president Albie Hecht. "Between 'Shrek,' 'Final Fantasy,' 'Jimmy Neutron,' and 'Monsters, Inc.,' [there are] probably more movies done in CGI now than [hand-drawn] cel animation."


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