‘Morris Lessmore’ and Moonbot Studios’ ‘swamp rats’ wave Hollywood South flag at Oscars

10540739-largeAcknowledging the recent heartbreaking, season-ending losses by the New Orleans Saints and the LSU Tigers, the folks at Shreveport’s Moonbot Studios promised in an interview last month that they — and their animated short film “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” — would bring home Oscar gold for Louisiana.

They did one better. Not only did they bring the Oscar home to Louisiana last night — but they also brought Louisiana to the Oscars.

“We’re just, like, these swamp rats from Louisiana,” an overjoyed Bill Joyce said Sunday night in his Oscar acceptance speech, taking the stage at the 84th annual Academy Awards last night with his “Morris Lessmore” co-director Brandon Oldenburg. “And this is incredibly grand. We love the movies. We love the movies more than anything else. … We’re just down there in Louisiana, where people just keep on trying and keep going.”

It was entirely fitting that Joyce and Oldenburg used the occasion of their acceptance speech — an ebullient two minutes or so that brought a flavor of fun to the often-staid Academy Awards — to pay tribute to Moonbot Studios’ home state. After all, their fledgling studio and its Oscar-winning first film and accompanying iPad app are both very firmly rooted in the Louisiana silt.

Moonbot Studios was built in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans and much of the rest of the Louisiana Gulf Coast. So when Joyce and Oldenburg — along the film’s with two New Orleans producers, Alissa Kantrow and Lampton Enochs, who was chased out of the city by the storm — began the process of assembling their gentle ode to the curative power of the written word, it was obvious where the story would start.

It would start in New Orleans — in the French Quarter, to be exact, three blocks of which they would re-create at 1/12th scale for “Morris Lessmore,” which borrows techniques from both the computer animation and stop-motion animation traditions. The crew they recruited for the project, many of whom had never been to New Orleans, would have to be instructed on how to make their mini-Quarter look real. “It was funny,” Joyce said, “because Brandon and I and Lampton — we had to go, ‘No, no, no — no, no, no. The sidewalks look much crummier than this.’ The guys are like, ‘Are you sure, man?’ “

The film would then include blowing winds and displaced building and then utter devastation — instantly relatable images of loss to locals — to set the stage for the meat of its wordless and uplifting 15-minute story.

And when it was all over, the closing credits would proudly proclaim, “This film was created entirely in the state of Louisiana.” Among the people to whom the movie is dedicated is local storyteller Colleen Salley.

After mugging playfully for the press corps backstage at Sunday’s Oscar ceremony, Oldenburg and Joyce — with a jaunty porkpie hat complimenting his otherwise traditional tux — continued the Louisiana theme in the Oscar interview room.

“I think an atomic joy bomb has just exploded in the northern part of Louisiana, and the radioactivity will be of a very instructive and constructive type,” Joyce told the Hollywood press assembled there, in a transcript provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Oldenburg continued for him: “And on top of that, our short was to serve two purposes. One, to tell a great story, two, to serve as a calling card for our company, Moonbot Studios. And the whole point was to just try to get the world to recognize what we’re capable of in Shreveport, Louisiana, and that there’s a level of quality that they can come to expect based on what this short exudes.”

Joyce: “I mean, we have 35 young employees and we’re basically surrounded by bayous, and they’re incredibly gifted. And so from the swampy lands of Louisiana, we have crawled forth with this, and it’s lovely to be recognized. … We’re going to not sleep for a year.”

Which is a good thing. Because they have plans – and they have work to do. In other words, this isn’t the last you’ve seen or heard of Moonbot Studios.

“We want to do more shorts,” Oldenburg said. “We want to do more apps. We want to do more games. We want to do more books.”

 Article originally written by Mike Scott, The Times-Picayune