October 16, 1976
Animated director Gil Kenan's rapid rise from unknown film student to Oscar-nominated filmmaker was the stuff that dreams are made of for anyone struggling in Hollywood. Born on Oct. 16, 1976 in London, England, his family moved to Tel Aviv, Israel before settling in Los Angeles, CA. Though an avid filmgoer - he cited "E.T." (1982), "Gremlins" (1984) and "Back to the Future" (1985) as early influences - he never conceived of making movies for a living until later in life. He did pursue theater acting, but the 1994 Northridge earthquake swallowed up the play he was working on. It was then that he decided to go to film school, later attending the University of California, Los Angeles, where he won the school's Spotlight Award for "The Lark" (2002). This 10-minute short, which combined live action on digital video with stop-motion animation, helped kick in the door for Kenan. A week before graduating with his master's, Creative Artists Agency signed him as a client, distributing his short to every producer in town.Director Robert Zemeckis got hold of the film and showed it to Stephen Spielberg, with whom he was producing an animated feature. They invited Kenan to pitch his take and he got the job. And just like that, he made his first big budget film, "Monster House" (2006) - a comic animated horror flick about a house terrorizing three tweeners, who must destroy the structure in order to save the neighborhood. Kenan used the same motion-capture process that turned real actors into animated characters that Zemeckis had used to great effect on "The Polar Express" (2004). But instead of trying to make his characters look like real people, Kenan created more stylized cartoons that he called "digital puppets." With great expectations, "Monster House" was released to a few disappointing reviews, some of which cited a muddled third act and resolution - though most critics were pleased to give their endorsement. The film, however, failed to rake in the box office dollars that many at Sony Pictures had hoped. Softening the blow, somewhat, when awards season rolled around, the feature received nods from both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature Film.