Page last updated at 08:32 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Oscars beckon for UK undertaking

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

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Animators Adam Foulkes and Alan Smith on their Oscar nomination

An animated short about two undertakers, one corpse and a bungled burial could see its British creators carry home an Academy Award later this month.

Had Nick Park managed to finish his latest Wallace and Gromit short in time, it is entirely possible he would have been nominated for his sixth Academy Award last month.

Because he did not, however, it is left to London-based animators Smith & Foulkes to fly the British flag at the Oscars in his stead.

Adam Foulkes and Alan Smith, of East End animation outfit Nexus, are a friendly duo who work out of an upstairs office in Shoreditch.

It was here they created This Way Up, one of five works shortlisted for this year's Academy Award for best animated short.

Partly funded by the BBC, this nine-minute comedy tells of father and son undertakers trying to put an old lady in the ground.

Their darkly humorous mission takes them from their humble funeral parlour across country down to the afterlife itself - all without one word being spoken.

According to Smith, the idea of a double act came out of their love for the classic sketch comedies of the 1970s.

'Death carnival'

"We've always been a double act ourselves," he says. "We sometimes call it an animated Two Ronnies sketch."

"There is a British-ness to it," agrees Foulkes, who also acknowledges the influence of Morecambe and Wise and Monty Python.

This Way Up
This Way Up follows two undertakers with a coffin to bury and no hearse
"I think people like it the darker it gets. The bit where they all go underground becomes a bit of a death carnival."

Since meeting at the Royal College of Art in the 1990s, Smith and Foulkes have worked on videos, commercials and films like Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can and the live-action version of Thunderbirds.

Commissions like these, they say, proved instructive when they began to develop their first stand-alone short.

"The discipline of making commercials definitely comes through in the film-making," says Smith.

"In advertising you have to get in, tell the story and get out quickly. We didn't want to make a short film that dragged on and on."

There are no plans to follow Nick Park's lead, however, and give A T Shank & Son their own full-length outing.

"I'm not sure it'll stretch into a film," says Foulkes. "It's not Wallace and Gromit."

Acceptance speech

That did not stop This Way Up picking up a string of prizes last year at festivals in the US, Spain, Canada and Mexico.

It was winning at one of these events - the Uppsala International Short Film Festival in Sweden - that made it eligible for the Oscars.

This Way Up
The film climaxes with a ghoulish visit to the underworld
The nomination sees them go head to head with Presto, a typically polished effort from animation giant Pixar, as well as three other shorts from France, Japan and Russia.

But if Smith and Foulkes nurse ambitions of defeating the studio behind Toy Story and Wall-E they are keeping it to themselves.

"I think if you go to the Oscars expecting to win, you're in for a disappointing evening," says Smith.

"You've really just got to go with a smile on your face, have fun and enjoy it for what it is."

Having received their official Tom Hanks-presented DVD from the academy telling them what to do if they triumph, both know what is expected of them.

"Apparently short and entertaining acceptance speeches go down very well," says Smith with a grin.

"The red carpet is very long, we've heard," he continues. "We've decided we're going to be the first people to run down it.

"I don't think the animated short presentation is the highlight of the evening, but we'll see if we can make it that."

This Way Up can be viewed in full on the BBC's Film Network site.

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SEE ALSO
Latest Gromit misses out on Oscar
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