LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Only 10 years ago, Oscar organizers created a category for makers of animated films, but with live-action movies featuring more and more computer images, this year's nominees for best animated picture say it is getting harder to tell the two apart.
"The walls between live-action and animation are becoming really porous, and it's interesting. I think in the decades ahead you're really going to see those walls coming down," Lee Unkrich, director of "Toy Story 3," said at a symposium of Oscar animation nominees on Thursday night.
Indeed, heading into last year's Oscars, the world's top film awards, there was a lot of talk as to whether smash hit and best film nominee "Avatar," was an animation or live-action because it featured both forms prominently.
Regardless of whether a distinction is made between the two forms, the Oscar animators at Thursday's symposium held by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences agreed that for their movies they drew from a broad palette of live-action, from a classic horse tale to a 1980s Steve Martin comedy.
Animated movies were once the lowly cousin to live-action movies, but since the late 1990s, they have proven their appeal as computer animation has taken over the industry.
Films from Disney-Pixar and DreamWorks Animation have been massive, global box office hits. Disney-Pixar's "Toy Story 3" became 2010's top box office draw with $1.1 billion in worldwide ticket sales, and DreamWorks' "How To Train Your Dragon" took in nearly $500 million.
Unkrich told the crowd he can take inspiration from anywhere. "It can come from live-action, it can come from a painting, it can come from a song," he said.
But more often than not, Unkrich and "Dragon" directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois came back to the influence of live-action movies, rather than other types of art, as they described their work.
Sanders and DeBlois said a scene in their film, where a teenage Viking tames a dragon, resembles the classic 1979 movie "The Black Stallion."
For a scene in which the Viking flies aloft on the dragon, while his father looks skyward, they took inspiration from sequences in 1978 movie "Superman," DeBlois said.
Unkrich said an emotional sequence in "Toy Story 3," where a young man going off to college plays with his toys for the last time before giving them to a girl, borrowed from the way 1989 Steve Martin comedy "Parenthood" interposed music over dialogue, in a poignant family scene.
"Toy Story 3" is widely expected to win the best animated movie Oscar on Sunday, but both "Dragon" and the third nominee, "The Illusionist" have strong followings.
Sylvain Chomet, the director of European production "The Illusionist," was absent because he had to attend the Cesar Awards in his native France.
"Illusionist" also borrows from live-action film, because it is based on a 1950s script by the late French screen icon Jacques Tati. The main character, a traveling magician, is an animated version of the taciturn Tati.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte