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VES Awards: Welcome to the “Jungle”

February 9, 2017 | By
Christopher Walken and Neel Sethi in The Jungle Book (2016)

Christopher Walken and Neel Sethi in The Jungle Book (2016)

When VES director Eric Roth took to the stage at the opening of the 15th-ever VES Awards, he told the overflowing room at the Beverly Hilton that we were all there to honor “the most amazing work the world has ever seen.”

Well, okay, that does sort of leave things like the Sistine Chapel, King Lear, and the Mahabharata out hanging, but his point was well taken: Rendered digits are so life-like and fantastical all at once that sometimes reality itself seems permeable, or redefined… or questionable. That’s even the case with many of the categories that VES honors: For example, the big winner was Jungle Book, with Rob Legato and team nabbing awards for the work they did in conjunction with cinematograph Bill Pope and director Jon Favreau. As Roth also pointed out in his opening remarks though, the whole film was shot in downtown L.A. Nearly everything in it, except a few sets, and of course Mowgli, was “rendered.” Which is to say, “animated.”

So when Jungle Book won the night’s top prize for FX work in a “photoreal feature” (along with four other awards, including compositing and one for Christopher Walken’s turn as King Louie — beating out Idris Elba’s Shere Khan), was it really less an animated film than the night’s other big winner, Kubo and the Two Strings, which won the top animation prize?

Of course, Kubo looks “animated,” and Jungle Book doesn’t — and yet both are competing against each other for the same visual effects award at the Oscars.

Hmm.

Matthew McConaughey, Charlize Theron, and Art Parkinson in Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

Matthew McConaughey, Charlize Theron, and Art Parkinson in Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

In any case, a betting person might regard Jungle Book as the frontrunner for that statue now, though of course, a betting person might also have assumed that a person who gets the most votes in an election would be declared the winner, so it’s a time of altered realities for sure.

On which note, anyone conversant with Patton Oswalt’s twitterfeed might have expected him do a fairly incendiary job as he returned to hosting duties, and mostly they’d be right: He admonished everyone to enjoy this, “the last VES Awards,” and advised audience members to keep their dinner rolls for food in the coming dystopia, their tablecloths for potential clothing, and later, to take home their cocktails in plastic bags, since the alcohol could eventually be used for medicine “in the wasteland.”

Some of the moment’s political themes were also picked up by Victoria Alonso, ably introduced by Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi as the Marvel Studios exec and FX producer was presented the VES Visionary Award.

She took the fact that there was a line for the women’s restroom at SIGGRAPH this year as a tangible sign of progress, thanked her wife of many years standing, and noted that she too, was an immigrant to the U.S., from her native Argentina. “Sometimes someone has to hold the banner,” she allowed, and she was willing to do that for “every little girl out there.”

And sometimes, as Lifetime Achievement honoree Ken Ralston noted, someone just has to put up with their child’s eccentricities, as he thanked his parents, Bob and Dolores, who, despite a lot of seeming head-scratching, allowed their son to keep doing tabletop animation in their garage. This, of course, lead to a visual effects career — “in the photochemical era,” as Ralston cracked — that took in the original Star Wars trilogy, some early Star Trek features, and a slew of FX supervisor roles on films like the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Jumanji, Forrest Gump, for which he received one of his quartet of Oscars.

Marvel's Doctor Strange. Photo Credit: Film Frame. ©2016 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

Marvel’s Doctor Strange. Photo Credit: Film Frame. ©2016 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

And speaking of Oscar, another of this year’s VFX nominees, Deepwater Horizon, grabbed a “Mellie” — though it may be quixotic to try and get the VES statue thusly nicknamed — in the supporting FX category, along with a nod for best model work for the rig, all of it rendered in another movie shot mostly in a parking lot, with actors being the only “real” elements.

In the VFX Oscar category, fellow nominee Doctor Strange won at VES for its New York city environment, while the fifth nominee, Rogue One, wound up being shut out.

On the TV side, Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards continued its mojo from the ASC Awards, winning for work in a photoreal episode, with Black Sails winning in the supporting category.

Afterwards, perhaps in a nod to Ralston’s “photochemical era,” none other than Popular Mechanics was sponsoring the post-award party, Vanity Fair-style. Whether they get branded that same way, or whether the party becomes its own center of award night gravity, all remain to be seen, though VES does find itself adding more and more tables each for its show, each year.

A beaming Rob Legato showed up at the later the proceedings, and perhaps his comments, in a sense bookending Roth’s opening remarks, aptly took in the whole evening — whether it was Kubo’s stop-motion animation being honored, or fully-rendered cinema that redefines what we mean by “animation” or “visual effects” in the first place: “You are all artists!,” he told the room.

Indeed. Let’s hope those artists can all negotiate Oswalt’s prophesied wasteland, to reassemble next year.

 

Winners of the 15th Annual VES Awards are as follows:

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

The Jungle Book

Robert Legato

Joyce Cox

Andrew R. Jones

Adam Valdez

JD Schwalm

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

Deepwater Horizon

Craig Hammack

Petra Holtorf-Stratton

Jason Snell

John Galloway

Burt Dalton

Outstanding Visual Effects in an Animated Feature

Kubo and the Two Strings

Travis Knight

Arianne Sutner

Steve Emerson

Brad Schiff

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode

Game of Thrones; Battle of the Bastards

Joe Bauer

Steve Kullback

Glenn Melenhorst

Matthew Rouleau

Sam Conway

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode

Black Sails; XX

Erik Henry

Terron Pratt

Aladino Debert

Yafei Wu

Paul Stephenson

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Real-Time Project

Uncharted 4

Bruce Straley

Eben Cook

Iki Ikram

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Commercial

John Lewis; Buster the Boxer

Diarmid Harrison-Murray

Hannah Ruddleston

Fabian Frank

William Laban

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project

Pirates of the Caribbean; Battle for the Sunken Treasure

Bill George

Amy Jupiter

Hayden Landis

David Lester

Outstanding Animated Performance in a Photoreal Feature

The Jungle Book; King Louie

Paul Story

Dennis Yoo

Jack Tema

Andrei Coval

Outstanding Animated Performance in an Animated Feature

Finding Dory; Hank

Jonathan Hoffman

Steven Clay Hunter

Mark Piretti

Audrey Wong

Outstanding Animated Performance in an Episode or Real-Time Project

Game of Thrones; Battle of the Bastards; Drogon

James Kinnings

Michael Holzl

Matt Derksen

Joseph Hoback

Outstanding Animated Performance in a Commercial

John Lewis; Buster the Boxer

Tim van Hussen

David Bryan

Chloe Dawe

Maximilian Mallmann

Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal Feature

Doctor Strange; New York City

Adam Watkins

Martijn van Herk

Tim Belsher

Jon Mitchell

Outstanding Created Environment in an Animated Feature

Moana; Motunui Island

Rob Dressel

Andy Harkness

Brien Hindman

Larry Wu

Outstanding Created Environment in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project

Game of Thrones; Battle of the Bastards; Meereen City

Deak Ferrand

Dominic Daigle

François Croteau 

Alexandru Banuta

Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Photoreal Project

The Jungle Book

Bill Pope

Robert Legato

Gary Roberts

John Brennan

Outstanding Model in a Photoreal or Animated Project

Deepwater Horizon; Deepwater Horizon Rig

Kelvin Lau

Jean Bolte

Kevin Sprout

Kim Vongbunyong

Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal Feature

The Jungle Book; Nature Effects

Oliver Winwood

Fabian Nowak

David Schneider

Ludovic Ramisandraina

Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Animated Feature

Moana

Marc Henry Bryant

David Hutchins

Ben Frost

Dale Mayeda

Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project

Game of Thrones; Battle of the Bastards; Meereen City

Thomas Hullin

Dominik Kirouac

James Dong

Xavier Fourmond

Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Feature

The Jungle Book

Christoph Salzmann

Masaki Mitchell

Matthew Adams

Max Stummer

Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Episode

Game of Thrones; Battle of the Bastards; Retaking Winterfell

Dominic Hellier

Morgan Jones

Thijs Noij

Caleb Thompson

Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Commercial

John Lewis; Buster the Boxer

Tom Harding

Alex Snookes

David Filipe

Andreas Feix

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project

Breaking Point

Johannes Franz

Nicole Rothermel

Thomas Sali

Alexander Richter

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