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Animators draw from Minnesota talent

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Animator Mike Owens, who worked on the Oscar-nominated short film "Hair Love," takes part in a Q&A with Gray Duck Theater & Coffeehouse on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
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Mike Owens has never had to style an African-American girl’s hair.

However, his Minnesota-based animation studio, WOMO Studio , helped bring to life a story of a father wrestling with the experience in the animated short film "Hair Love."

The story, by filmmaker and director Matthew Cherry, has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.

Mike and Wendie Owens, founders of WOMO Studio, were at a screening of "Hair Love" and other nominated shorts Friday at Gray Duck Theater & Coffeehouse. Mike Owens spoke with the audience about the studio’s role in the film after the screening.

"It’s their story," Owens said of Cherry, the other directors and writers of the short.

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The story shows audiences a black father in a different light than they’re usually portrayed in mainstream films. Owens said making his reactions convincing is the fun and challenge of animation.

"You find the universality of the things that are human," he said. "It’s just being genuine with each other and listening to who’s telling the story."

Bringing a mass of hair to life is another fun challenge for animators.

"It was big, broad, cartoony," he said. "It’s giving personality to objects that normally don’t have life of their own."

Animators at WOMO Studio in St. Paul were among 20 animators who worked on the film. Owens said technology makes collaborating across the country possible and has allowed WOMO to stay in Minnesota, tap into the local talent and contribute at a national scale.

Mike and Wendie Owens established the studio in a St. Paul home in September 2018, and still work from there. Owens credits local voice talent and other skilled contributors here in Minnesota for the success of "Danger and Eggs," an Amazon series that won a Daytime Emmy Award in 2018.

"It’s a career turn I didn’t expect to happen here," Owens said.

The couple met in Chicago while working on Warner Bros. series "Animaniacs."

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After working as designer, director and production manager on projects for Disney, Warner Bros., MTV and other companies, Wendie Owens worked at the Science Museum of Minnesota in a production role that let her travel the world.

Mike Owens worked as animation director at Puny Entertainment in Minneapolis, an independent studio that creates animated content for Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Disney and other media companies.

From their experience, the pair learned that working in Minnesota meant they had a deep talent pool around them but could still contribute to national and global outlets.

"It gives me confidence to take the risks because I know the talent is here," Mike Owens said.

Gray Duck Theater & Coffeehouse

619 6th Ave. N.W.

Today

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1:30 p.m. Nominated animated short films

7 p.m. Nominated live-action short films

Tuesday

1 p.m. Nominated live-action short films

4 p.m. Nominated animated short films

Thursday

1 p.m. Nominated live-action short films

4:30 p.m. Nominated animated short films

Friday

12 p.m. Nominated animated short films

5 p.m. Nominated live-action short films

Saturday

12 p.m. Nominated animated short films

5 p.m. Nominated live-action short films

Rochester Cinema

4340 Maine Ave. SE

Saturday

10:30 a.m. Nominated animated short films

Related Topics: ART
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