As the Academy Awards nominations were announced on March 15, two of the selected films, Pixar’s animated “Soul” and Disney’s live-action “Mulan,” had special meaning for Cal State San Bernardino – biology professor Stuart Sumida served as a consultant to the makers of both movies.
Sumida, who teaches in the CSUSB College of Natural Sciences’ Department of Biological Sciences, worked as a consultant for his expertise in animal and human anatomy to both the animators in “Soul” and special effects experts on “Mulan.”
“Soul,” which addresses big ideas on life through the exploits of a jazz musician, was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Animated Feature, Best Original Score and Best Sound. Sumida used his expertise in anatomy to ensure an accurate representation of a cat named Mr. Mittens.
“I was invited by the animation supervisors at Pixar to help to infuse believable types of movement and behaviors into the character of Mr. Mittens,” Sumida said in an earlier interview. “Although Mr. Mittens is a stylized animated character, the way he moves, walks and runs, and behaves as a cat are all inspired by real-life feline biology.”
The goal was to make Mr. Mittens act and move so much like a cat that viewers of the film would accept him as an integral part of the story and universe that was shown in “Soul,” said Sumida, who added that he didn’t hesitate when approached by Pixar.
“Mulan,” Disney’s live-action remake about a young Chinese maiden who disguises herself as a man to help her ill father to fight invaders in China, was nominated for Best Visual Effects and Best Costume Design. Sumida worked with FrameStore Visual Effects in Montreal (part of a multi-studio group that did the effects) helping on a Phoenix-like bird character.
The latest version of “Mulan” also had special meaning for Sumida. “It was nice to get to help on that one, as I’d worked quite a lot on the animated version Disney Animation did way back in 1997/1998,” Sumida said.
Sumida has served as a consultant on more than 70 films, television shows and video games since joining CSUSB. He served as a consultant to two films that won the Academy Award for Best Animated Film – “Ratatouille” in 2008 and “Zootopia” in 2017.
Sumida lectures on a number of subjects that include human anatomy and physiology, evolution and topics in zoology. He is the author of three books and more than 70 journal articles – many with students, introducing them to the process of research and publication in refereed journals.
He is just as comfortable outside the classroom or lecture hall, be it in paleontology digs in Europe and the United States or reconstructing fossilized dinosaur skeletons. He is recognized internationally for his research on biological transformations that took place as back-boned animals adapted to life on land and as co-discoverer of the earliest bipedal animal to ever run on two legs, predating dinosaurian bipeds by over 60 million years.
The Academy Award nominations will be presented on April 25.