January 16, 2015 - 5:00 AM
TORONTO - Canadian Graham Annable learned of his first Academy Award nomination at a rather inopportune time.
The co-director of the intricate stop-motion film "The Boxtrolls" — up for best animated feature film — was trudging through airport security, awaiting an early-morning flight from his adopted home of Portland, Ore., to L.A. for the Critics' Choice Movie Awards.
Then his phone rang.
"I was in the middle of trying to get my belt and shoes off," Annable told The Canadian Press with a laugh after landing. "I pretty much dropped the phone."
Isn't cellphone use verboten around TSA checkpoints?
"Yeah — the TSA officers were getting a little nervous around me."
Annable wasn't expecting the call, and given the circuitous route he took to directing films, that's understandable.
The 44-year-old grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., before training as an animator at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont.
From there, he worked briefly at an animation studio in Toronto before embarking on what he calls a "bizarre detour": more than a decade spent making video games with LucasArts.
He applied his talents to several "Star Wars" properties, two "Sam and Max" titles and the cult classic "The Curse of Monkey Island," among others, while also making a name for himself as a comic-book artist (most notably creating "Grickle" for Alternative Comics).
He had worked on only two films prior to "The Boxtrolls," both from the animation studio Laika: 2009's "Coraline" and 2012's "ParaNorman."
He's an Oscar nominee now after directing only one film, and he's as mystified as anyone.
"I've been pinching myself for the last two years," he said.
"I started out as a story artist on 'Coraline' and 'ParaNorman,' and had started out as head of story (on 'Boxtrolls'). Suddenly to find myself in the position of co-directing it — and honestly surviving that experience — and to be in this position, I don't even have words.
He uses the word "surviving," specifically, because overseeing stop-motion animation is a far different and, arguably, more taxing process than the animated formats he was used to.
He compares stop-motion to theatre, in that the director does as much prep work as possible, stages a rehearsal "if they're lucky," and initiates "incredibly intense, descriptive conversations" with the animators, but then has to trust those animators to follow that blueprint.
And then, he explains, "there are no do-overs, there are no go-backs."
"It's an all-or-nothing kind of thing, a one-time performance that will live in the film," he said.
The other movies competing for best animated feature film include "Big Hero 6," "Song of the Sea" and "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya." Annabel's stiffest competition in the category perhaps comes in the form of "How to Train Your Dragon 2," since the epic fable — from Canadian writer-director Dean DeBlois — recently won the category at the Golden Globes.
Annable said he's become friendly with DeBlois throughout the award process, and they even have a strange connection.
"Dean and I both laughed because we realized he attended Sheridan College the exact same years that I did — but I was in the winter program for the Ontario people, and he was in the summer program for the out-of-province folks," he said.
"So we were both there at the school at the same time but we never crossed paths, until now."
Well, they should find themselves in the same room again on Feb. 22, when the Neil Patrick Harris-hosted Oscars will be broadcast from L.A. by ABC and CTV.
Of course, if you ask Annable, he's not even certain he'll be invited — so fresh is this ride, he's taking nothing for granted.
"I hope so," he said with a laugh. "I never know what happens next. It's so new to me. I just wait to see which tickets arrive and they tell me where to go.
"It's been incredibly surreal. It is a long way from Sault Ste. Marie."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015