LOS ANGELES (AP) — Some of the film industry's most illustrious talents got early confirmation they were on the right track when they won Student Academy Awards.
Spike Lee, Robert Zemeckis, Pixar founder John Lasseter and "South Park" creator Trey Parker are just a few of the famous filmmakers who won honors from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when they were college students.
The latest crop of winners will be feted on Saturday, when the 40th annual Student Academy Awards are presented at academy headquarters in Beverly Hills, Calif. Comedian Bob Saget, who won a Student Academy Award in 1978, will host the ceremony. The newest 16 winners represent nine U.S. universities and three foreign institutions, and likely the future of film.
Here, some past winners share memories of accepting their Student Academy Awards and how it affected their careers. Their comments were provided to The Associated Press by the motion picture academy:
— JOHN LASSETER, whose credits as writer and director include "Toy Story," ''Toy Story 2," ''A Bug's Life" and "Cars," is still proud of his two Student Academy Awards won in 1979 and 1980.
"Being the first two-time winner of the Student Academy Award, I got to tell you, I still hold those prizes as some of the highest honors I've ever received," said the 56-year-old. "I've got two Academy Awards. I've got some Emmys. I've got some Golden Globes. ... But the two Student Academy Awards are two of the things that I'm most proud of because they were the first things that I won. And they gave me confidence ... to keep trusting my own instinct."
— BOB SAGET is best known as a comic and actor, a star of the long-running sitcom "Full House." He won his Student Academy Award for an 11-minute documentary he directed that he describes as, "black and white, about my nephew Adam, who had his face reconstructed."
"I think that Adam is the reason that I was even recognized by the Academy," said Saget, 57. "I filmed him and his beautiful spirit. And it was just his courage, and that's why."
Saget still considers the honor "a pretty important moment" in his life.
"When I found out that I was being flown out, that was like winning a beauty contest. I couldn't even believe that it happened. I was on local television in Philadelphia," he said. "It's about as exciting as anything could (be)."
— PETE DOCTER won an Oscar as a producer of 2009's best animated feature, "Up," which he also wrote and directed. His first Academy Award came in 1992 for his student film, "Next Door," which helped launch his career.
"It was a huge encouragement to me," said Docter, 44. "You know, you come out of school, you don't really know what's going on. You feel like you're alone. You don't really understand how this whole business works. And then, something like this comes along and suddenly it's a peek into a world that you would not have otherwise. You'd have no access to this. So, I think it is absolutely fantastic and really a great thing that Academy members who care about future generations are able to contribute directly and reach out and kind of communicate with the future filmmakers in the world."
— KEN KWAPIS works as a director of TV and film, with credits including "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," ''He's Just Not That Into You" and TV's "The Office."
"I was ecstatic when I got the news that I won," the 55-year-old director recalled. "I still didn't know what that meant, in terms of how one pursued this career. I had no idea whether that would mean I could get a job or what. But I was ecstatic that I was named the winner of the 1982 Student Academy Award.
"I was just thrilled to be here at the Motion Picture Academy. I was thrilled to be in that theater with those giant, oversized Oscar statues flanking the stage."
— ROBERT ZEMECKIS has directed such favorites as "Romancing the Stone," the "Back to the Future" trilogy and "Forrest Gump," for which he won an Oscar. An early recognition was the Student Academy Award, which he won in 1973.
"I feel very honored to be the first one to win a Student Academy Award," said Zemeckis, 62. "My great memory was just being in the — I don't think I was ever even in the Academy Theater until I came to get the award. And to be presented the award by William Friedkin and Walter Mirisch, who was the President at the time, was just great.
"To have a Student Academy Award on your resume, certainly gave you a magnificent, you know, cache and helped open doors here in the industry for sure."
AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen is on Twitter: www.twitter.com/APSandy .