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Last Updated: Friday, 22 February 2008, 09:09 GMT
Ratatouille cooks up Oscars storm
By Caroline Briggs
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Ratatouille
Ratatouille was a box office hit in the US and UK

In an Oscar year dominated by themes of violence and desperation, there sits the unlikely tale of a rat with a desire to be a chef.

Pixar animation Ratatouille, nominated for five Academy Awards, has charmed both the critics and the film-going public.

But for Mark Walsh, a supervising animator on the film, landing so many Oscars nods was just the cherry on the cake.

"I had so much fun working on this film," he says. "It was one of the best experiences I've ever had."

He says the most remarkable nomination is director and writer Brad Bird's nod for best original screenplay.

Bird joined the project years after it started, when, Walsh admits, it was a "mess". He had to rewrite the film from scratch, weaving in the script as the animators worked their magic.

"He wrote the movie while we were making it and then it gets nominated for an Academy Award! The man is outstanding," says Walsh, who previously worked on Oscar winner Finding Nemo.

RATATOUILLE'S OSCAR HOPES
Best original screenplay
Best animated feature film
Best music (original score)
Best sound mixing
Best sound editing

"I don't know how it came together, but it did.

"It was amazing to see. He couldn't even write it in order, he could only write pieces of it based on what models we had ready to animate.

"For months and months he only wrote scenes with the human characters in it, and when the rats were ready we started animating rat stuff."

Rat poison

Ratatouille tells the tale of sewer rat Remy, who has passion for cooking and food.

He is a misfit among his tribe of rats, using his finely-honed sense of smell to sniff out rat poison.

Mark Walsh
Mark Walsh previously worked on Finding Nemo

When the opportunity of working in the restaurant named after his culinary idol arises, Remy grabs it with both paws.

One of the main challenges for the film-makers was to overcome the "ick" factor of having a rat in a posh Parisian restaurant, by making him as appealing as possible.

"The artists came at Ratatouille with an eye for appeal - he just looks cute, and it would be very easy to make a rat not so," explains Walsh.

"By keeping his hands up by his face, like a baby or a puppy, it makes him cuter.

"We also had rats in the studio so we could observe them, and watch them move."

There was also the challenge of bringing the kitchen to life. Some of the animation team worked in a Paris restaurant to learn the art of cooking.

While film fans raved over Ratatouille - it took $616m (313m) at the global box office and has just gone to number one in the UK DVD chart - it was never in the running for best picture at the Oscars.

I look forward to the future when animation can be alongside a live action film for best picture
Mark Walsh

Despite its multiple nominations - often an indicator of best picture success - it competes against Persepolis and Surf's Up in the less prestigious category of best animated feature.

The absence of animation in the best feature category is something Walsh feels is necessary - for now.

"I look forward to the future when animation can be alongside a live action film for best picture," he says. "If it is a good picture and everyone loves it then why not?"

"Animation has been treated as a genre, rather than a technique. We need more experimentation for that to change.

3D challenge

Next for Pixar is WALL-E (short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) about the last little robot on Earth, due to hit cinemas in July.

And the first two Toy Story movies are also to be remade in 3D, ahead of the release of Toy Story 3 in June 2010.

Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story II
The cast of Toy Story are returning in 3D format

So what new challenges will Pixar face with a 3D film?

"We don't know yet," laughs Walsh. "We're just starting out. Presumably it should be easy - we have our little virtual characters, we just set up another virtual camera, but we'll see.

"But resurrecting Buzz and Woody for Toy Story 3 almost didn't happen.

"Somebody had kept one of the old computers as a coffee table in their office, and thank goodness they did because that was the only machine in the building that could load Buzz and we were able to salvage those characters.

"3D is exciting because it's new and it's cutting edge. It may last, it may not, but at least we are trying it and that keeps it interesting."

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