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VENICE (Reuters) - The creator of "Toy Story" and other animation blockbusters hopes more animation movies will be considered for the Oscar best picture now that the number of nominees in that category is being doubled to 10.
John Lasseter, who is receiving a lifetime career award along with the directors of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios at the Venice film festival, said animation films were now as respected as their live action peers.
"The extension of the number of nominees for best picture opens up opportunities for very popular films and other films including animation," he told reporters.
So far, Walt Disney's 1991 "Beauty and the Beast" is the only full-length animation film nominated in the best picture category, he said.
Asked how he felt at seeing animation movies getting more official recognition and awards, the 52-year-old Oscar-winning director said: "We all got on a space ship and flew around the earth ... we think we landed where animation was finally accepted along with our big brothers in live action. It's hard to believe, I am so excited."
Organizers said Lasseter, chief creative officer at the studios, was "one of the great innovators and experimenters of Hollywood."
Lasseter's first long feature film, "Toy Story" (1995), was the first animation movie to be nominated for best original script at the Academy Awards, which until then considered animation films mostly for the best music statuette.
The Best Animated Feature category was created in 2001, and Pixar has won four times since then, with "Finding Nemo," "The Incredibles," "Ratatouille" and "WALL-E," making it the most successful studios in this field.
Lasseter, who will receive the award from his ex-boss and mentor George Lucas, was one of the founders of Pixar in 1986. Twenty years later Pixar merged with Disney.
To mark the award, the 3-D versions of "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" will premiere in Venice later on Sunday. Fans will also get a chance to glimpse a short clip of "Toy Story 3," expected to be released next year, and "The Princess and the Frog," which marks Walt Disney's return to hand-drawn animation.
Animation has featured prominently at the Venice film showcase in recent years and festival director Marco Mueller is known to be a fan of the genre.
Still, this year appears to mark a break from the more independent, mostly live-action directors who received the lifetime achievement award on the Lido.Recent winners include Ermanno Olmi, David Lynch, Tim Burton and Hayao Miyazaki.
"When I saw the list of all the other winners I thought: he's got the wrong guy. Wait a minute: a bunch of animation geeks from northern California being honored in Venice? I was blown away," said Lasseter.