The Visual Effects Society (VES) held it’s 12th annual awards show at the Beverly Hilton last night – meaning that while it’s barely younger than the century itself, it continues to share a venue with the Golden Globes. Yet the evening was more dignified than the average Globes telecast.
Indeed, this edition brought VES’ own version of the hosting duo Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who anchor the Globes in the same ballroom. For the VFX community, this meant the return of comedian/actor Patton Oswalt.
Oswalt was in good form, casually dressed, which reflected the almost-formal-but-not-quite vibe that the VES has maintained for years.
He joked early on about it being an evening for Gravity awards, and he wasn’t wrong, as the existential man-against-universe (or woman-against-universe, as the case may be) film directed by Alfonso Cuarón copped not only a Visionary award for the director himself, who established his sci-fi/FX-driven cred with the dystopian Children of Men, but went on to nab half a dozen awards for the night, including the VES version of best picture, namely outstanding visual effects in a visual effects-driven feature motion picture.
Their best non-FX picture award, outstanding supporting visual effects in a feature motion picture, went to the surprisingly resilient Lone Ranger, which is also nominated in the FX category on Oscar night – but where it will lose to, yes, Gravity.
Director Cuarón talked about cinematography and visual effects merging into “the whole cinematic experience,” after being introduced by surprise presenter Sandra Bullock, “the integration of lights, sets and even actors.”
But what does that integration mean for the people who build those sets? Or render them? The most interesting conversation BTL had about Gravity, and the state of visual effects as an industry, came not during the awards, but at the bar of the Beverly Hilton, waiting for the ballroom doors to open.
We wound up sitting next to a renderer for a premier digital effects house. He was happy to be working primarily on commercials, however, instead of features, since work on motion pictures was too unpredictable, too unsteady. He was lamenting that he and his cohorts, who rushed into the biz around the turn of century, all thought that having a unique skill set, and being in a seemingly rarefied industry, would keep their work steady, and their wages high.
But now most of the middle tier work in films – outside of the tentpoles – can be handled with plug-n’-play software, by workers in low-wage economies. “We thought,” said renderer opined, ”that only our grandfathers needed unions. We never realized we did.”
Were they too late? Or is that organizing yet to come?
There was scant mention of such tension from the podium. Unlike previous years, there were no real laments by either executive director Eric Roth or VES chair Jeffrey Okun, about outsourcing or any of the other issues affecting the “day laborers” of the digital world, or the “digital gaffers,” as they were referred to by Roth in his opening remarks.
Our disgruntled bar companion – as well-positioned as he was at a name brand house – was busy trying to deliver a final cut by Friday, working his phone as he attended the awards. He remarked that faster rendering speeds and newer tech didn’t matter anymore. Producers simply expected more complex visuals in the same time frames as they did when digits were in their infancy.
But there were many call-outs to an earlier era of visual effects, not only in the lifetime achievement award to Oscar-winning John Dykstra, whose credits stretch back to the original Star Wars trilogy, but also when Okun mentioned a talk with late VFX pioneer Ray Harryhausen who worked in a pre-digital, stop-motion era. “I just didn’t know I couldn’t do it,” Harryhausen remarked to him.
Which is kind of the plucky mantra – overtime or benefits notwithstanding – that has held sway in the visual effects industry ever since.
Things are headed to a friendly protest by VFX artists on Oscar night over some of the economic issue affecting this now-pervasive aspect of filmmaking. But VES night was amiable and low key, with minimal agitation, or mention – outside of the hotel bar – about the macro issues affecting the industry.
Meanwhile, with Frozen as one of the evening’s other big winners, with awards in the four categories it was nominated for, and Game of Thrones grabbing three statues in the TV categories, there were few surprises as well.
Sometimes, the surprises are best saved for the screen. This year, in contrast to Harryhausen’s comments, the VES was quite happy to know what it could do, and to deliver it in a solid and relatively low-key evening.
Unless you happen to be talking to one of the “digital gaffers” at the bar.
The winners of the 12th Annual VES Awards are:
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects-Driven Feature Motion Picture
Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature Motion Picture
The Lone Ranger
Outstanding Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
Peter Del Vecho
Lino Di Salvo
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program
Game of Thrones: Valar Dohaeris
Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program
Outstanding Real-Time Visuals in a Video Game
Call of Duty: Ghosts
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Commercial
PETA: “98% Human”
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project
Space Shuttle Atlantis
Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Smaug
Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
Frozen: Bringing the Snow Queen to Life
Outstanding Animated Character in a Commercial or Broadcast Program
PETA: “98% Human”
Outstanding Created Environment in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Outstanding Created Environment in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
Frozen: Elsa’s Ice Palace
Virgilio John Aquino
Outstanding Created Environment in a Commercial or Broadcast Program
Game of Thrones: The Climb
Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Live Action Commercial or Broadcast Program
Outstanding Models in a Feature Motion Picture
Gravity: ISS Exterior
Outstanding FX and Simulation Animation in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Gravity: Parachute and ISS Destruction
Outstanding FX and Simulation Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
Frozen: Elsa’s Blizzard
Eric W. Araujo
Dong Joo Byun
Outstanding FX and Simulation Animation in a Commercial or Broadcast Program
PETA: “98% Human”
Outstanding Compositing in a Feature Motion Picture
Outstanding Compositing in a Broadcast Program
Game of Thrones: The Climb
Outstanding Compositing in a Commercial
Call of Duty: “Epic Night Out”
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project