MICA faculty members receive Oscar nomination for animated short film

Maryland Institute College of Art faculty members Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata have been nominated for an Oscar for their animated short film, “Negative Space.”

The married couple, who are both members of MICA’s animation faculty and own the studio Tiny Inventions, said they got the news in real time early this morning that their five-and-a-half minute short — based on a father-son relationship — was nominated.


They’re still processing the information, said Kuwahata, the 36-year-old Japanese-born and -raised animation filmmaker, who spent a majority of Tuesday morning speaking with Japanese media.

“I’m really excited, but to be honest, I’m quite overwhelmed at the moment. ... Japanese media went pretty crazy. I’ve been on the phone with the Japanese media since the morning. We haven't even had the time to process with each other, but it’s a really exciting time,,” said Kuwahata.


The film, which “captures a young boy's recollection of his father through packing his bag for work trips, and how that act came to symbolize their relationship,” according to a synopsis provided by MICA, has already received several awards, including the Prix Fipresci at the Annecy Animation Festival in France, one of the most prestigious animation festivals in the world.

The short, which took around a year to make, all started with a poem of around 150 words by Ron Koertge, according to the creators.

Porter, 36, who has been collaborating with his wife since they married 11 years ago, said they stumbled upon the poem on social media in 2014, and “immediately connected with the subject matter, and thought it was a story a lot of people could relate to.”

Kuwahata, whose father is a retired pilot, felt a particular connection.

“I remember vividly watching him pack and put everything in his suitcase ... and leave,” Kuwahata said. When she saw the film, “I just thought it was my childhood,” she said.

Porter and Kuwahata spent three months building the set and making props and another three months shooting the film in France with a team, a rarity for the couple who often work alone together.

“We often discussed about our own family problems or love with each other. I really felt like we got so close. … We were all living together while we were working. We were literally spending 24 hours a day together. They literally became our French family,” Kuwahata said.

The film relied on the efforts of other people around the world, as well, including a Japanese puppet master, who made the bone structure of the film’s main character; a Dutch composer; and Baltimore-based filmmaker Albert Birney, who narrated the film.


The couple also spent another three months in post-production and another six months of promotion, Kuwahata said, with the film hitting the festival circuit around June 2017 to rave reviews.

“It’s very surreal, for us this is something that we’ve been working together for many years. We’ve been making our own projects. We’ve been so committed,” Porter said.

Kuwahata said along with the interest of Japanese media, she’s seen news outlets and people on social media mention her as a powerful women of color.

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“I thought ‘That’s so cool.’ I’ve always wondered where Asians fit into the color scheme,” she said.

“I am so proud to represent the [women of color].”

Other animated shorts up for the Oscar are “Dear Basketball” (Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant), “Garden Party” (Victor Caire and Gabriel Grapperon), “Lou” (Dave Mullins and Dana Murray) and “Revolting Rhymes” (Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer).


And "Negative Space” isn’t the only MICA-related Oscar nomination announced Tuesday morning. Ramsey Ann Naito, class of 1992, is among the producers of “Boss Baby,” which was nominated for best animated feature.

The Oscars will be handed out March 4 in Hollywood.