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Inception Wins Four VES Awards


Inception took four awards at the 9th Annual VES Awards. (Photo by Stephen Vaughan/Courtesy of Warner Bros).
So here we were on a very retro weekday night for a Hollywood awards show – owing to the VES bowing out of their recent Century Plaza venue due to a labor dispute, and needing to swap around their usual weekend evening slot. The show came on the same day that the Democratic party announced their 2012 convention was going to be in decidedly non-union Charlotte, North Carolina, the President feeling, evidently, that unions are retro in the wrong way for a forward-looking 21st administration.

This was also the same day when the redoubtable Richard Verrier ran a piece in The Los Angeles Times bemoaning the implosion and loss of the postproduction visual effects industry here in Los Angeles in particular, and California in general.

So it might have been no accident when VES’ executive director Eric Roth, in his opening remarks, not only referred to the appearance of Verrier’s piece that morning – calling this past 12 months “the year of the business model” but explicitly stated that the visual effects industry is rife with talk of whether to form a union (applause from the house), declared that “everyone should have access to health care” (he’d better inform the current House majority), and called for a “respectful place in the credit crawl” for increasingly important role of visual effects supervisor – and their crews.

That met with a lot of applause, but whether an industry that is outsourced to places across the globe can have its version of an “Egypt moment” where the workers take to the proverbial streets and won’t be moved remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, it was a night for good spirits and celebration: A lifetime achievement honor for table-top animation master Ray Harryhausen, whose modeled, pre-digital creatures in films ranging from 7th Voyage of Sinbad to It Came From Beneath the Sea and the original Clash of the Titans – and many more – inspired nearly everyone in the room to pursue their own careers in effects and creature-making.

Arguably, this reporter is filing this particular report in part because of a childhood and adolescence spent watching skeletons fighting – frame by frame – in films like Jason and the Argonauts.

And while Harryhausen couldn’t be there – opting to stay in London to tend to his wife – director Christopher Nolan, recipient of the first-ever visionary award  given by the VES, wound up echoing Roth’s opening comments during a thoughtful acceptance speech by suggesting to the talent in the room that “I’d like you to say ‘no’ to the unreasonable.”

Whether his own VFX supe for Inception, Paul Franklin, just said no, remains unknown, but however far he pushed the envelope in service of his director’s vision paid off, as the film nabbed four VES statuettes during the evening, including the frequent Oscar predictor, “Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects Driven Motion Picture.”

The surprise, in terms of Oscar tea leaves, came in the animated categories, where How to Train Your Dragon upset Pixar’s highly-lauded Toy Story 3 – twice.

Your correspondent found himself seated at a Pixar table, next to director Teddy Newton, whose Day and Night – shown with Toy Story 3 – won in the animated short category. There was never quite enough money to do the picture everyone wanted, he recounted from the podium, “but we have enough to do the picture twice.”

An appreciative laugh erupted from the Pixar group.

While it’s hard to imagine Toy Story 3 being similarly shut out on Oscar night, Inception cemented its mojo and momentum as the FX picture not only du jour, but “du year.”

Richard Kind – one of Toy Story’s voices – ably supplemented comedian Patton Oswalt’s hosting when he came out to present some of the evening’s last statues. “I don’t even know what half of your categories mean!” he exclaimed.

But everyone in the room – those who’d been lucky enough to have work in “the year of the business model” – certainly did. And in an industry where nearly everything that can be imagined can now be made literal, or at least visual, it’s only the journey between this year’s VES awards, and next year’s that remains unknowable.


Venue: The Beverly Hilton, obtained in a pinch when the Century Plaza couldn’t settle its labor woes. Presumably, this means the workers there are, if not unionized, at least pretty content.

Parking: Shh. There’s easy street parking a short distance from the BH. And you get your car faster that way, when the evening’s over.

Food n’ Booze: Wine wasn’t bad, but did the red have to be a mid-grade Merlot? Would it kill anyone to offer a Zinfandel? Food was good, but the veggie option was four quickly inhaled ravioli.

Swag: For a second straight year, none. In an era when shortages are driving populations into the streets to overthrow their governments, perhaps forgoing swag constitutes the L.A. version of sacrifice.

Memorable Line: MC Patton Oswalt referring to Harryhausen as the “Bob Dylan/Johnny Cash/David Bowie of the whole thing.” Now we just need to figure out who the Lennon/McCartney of VFX are.

The Winners of the 9th Annual VES Awards were:

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual-Effects Driven Feature Motion Picture
Paul Franklin, Visual Effects Supervisor
Chris Corbould, Special Effects Supervisor
Mike Chambers, Visual Effects Producer
Matthew Plummer, Visual Effects Producer

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature Motion Picture
Michael Owens, VFX Supervisor
Joel Mendias, Executive Producer
Bryan Grill, VFX Supervisor
Danielle Plantec, CG Supervisor

Outstanding Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
How to Train Your Dragon
Simon Otto, Head of Character Animation
Craig Ring, Visual Effects Supervisor
Bonnie Arnold, Producer

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Broadcast Miniseries, Movie or a Special
The Pacific
John Sullivan, Senior Visual Effects Supervisor
David Taritero, VFX Producer
William Mesa , Visual Effects Supervisor
Marco Requay, Digital Visual Effects Supervisor

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Broadcast Series
Michael Gibson, VFX Producer
Gary Hutzel, VFX Supervisor
Davey Morton, VFX Artist
Jesse Toves, CGI Artist

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program
Boardwalk Empire
Robert Stromberg ,VFX Supervisor
Dave Taritero, VFX Producer
Richard Friedlander, VFX Producer
Paul Graff, VFX Supervisor

Outstanding Achievement in an Animated Short
Day & Night
Teddy Newton, Director
Kevin Reher, Producer
Michael Fu, Supervising Technical Director
Tom Gately, Supervising Animator

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Live Action Commercial
Halo: Reach
Dan Glass, Senior VFX Supervisor
Dan Seddon, CG Supervisor
Matt Dessero, DFX Supervisor
Stephanie Gilgar, VFX Producer

Outstanding Animated Commercial
Cadbury’s Spots V Stripes
Jake Mengers, Creative VFX Director
Julie Evans, VFX Producer
Jorge Montiel Meurer, Lead Animator
Michael Gregory, 2D Supervisor

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project
King Kong 360 3D
Matt Aitken, VFX Supervisor
Kevin Sherwood, VFX Producer
Eric Reynolds, Animation Supervisor
R. Christopher White, CG Supervisor

Outstanding Real-Time Visual Effects in a Video Game
Halo: Reach
Marcus Lehto, Creative Director
Joseph Tung, Executive Producer
Stephen Scott, Senior FX Lead
CJ Cowan, Cinematics Director

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Video Game Trailer
World of Warcraft
Marc Messenger, VFX Supervisor
Phillip Hillenbrand, Jr., VFX Producer

Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 – Dobby
Mathieu Vig, Animator
Ben Lambert, Modeller
Laurie Brugger, Character Supervisor
Marine Poirson, Look Development TD

Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
How to Train Your Dragon – Toothless
Gabe Hordos ,Supervising Animator
Cassidy Curtis, Supervising Animator
Mariette Marinus, Character Technical Director
Brent Watkins, Character Technical Director

Outstanding Animated Character in a Broadcast Program or Commercial
Citron C3 The Spacebox – Citro
Michael Nauzin, CG Supervisor
Anne Chatelain, CG Animator
Gregory Mougne, CG Animator
Cedric Nicolas, CG Animator

Outstanding Animated Character in a Video Game
StarCraft II – Sarah Kerrigan
Jeffrey W. Chamberlain, VFX Supervisor
Angela Blake, VFX Producer
Nick Carpenter , Executive Art Director

Outstanding Effects Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
How to Train Your Dragon
Andy Hayes, Effects Animator
Laurent Kermel, Effects Animator
Jason Mayer, Effects Animator
Brett Miller, Effects Animator

Outstanding Created Environment in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Inception – Paris Dreamscape
Bruno Baron, Lighting Supervisor
Dan Neal, CG Supervisor
Graham Page, Compositing Sequence Supervisor
Per Mork,-Jensen Compositor

Outstanding Created Environment in a Live Action Broadcast Program
The Pacific – The Battle of Iwo Jima
Marco Recuay, VFX Supervisor/Lead Artist
Morgan McDermott, CG Supervisor
NIck Lund-Ulrich, Compositing Supervisor

Outstanding Models & Miniatures in a Feature Motion Picture
Inception – Hospital Fortress Destruction
Ian Hunter, VFX Supervisor
Scott Beverly, Mechanical FX Supervisor
Forest Fischer, Model Crew Chief
Robert Spurlock, Special FX Supervisor

Outstanding Models & Miniatures in a Broadcast Program or Commercial
Boardwalk Empire – The Ivory Tow er
J. John Corbett, Compositing Supervisor
Matthew Conner, Digital Artist & Compositor
Brendan Fitzgerald, Senior 3D Artist

Outstanding Compositing in a Feature Motion Picture
Astrid Busser-Casas, Compositing Sequence Supervisor
Scott Pritchard, Compositing Sequence Supervisor
Jan Maroske, Compositing Sequence Supervisor
George Zwier, Compositing Sequence Supervisor

Outstanding Compositing in a Broadcast Program or Commercial
The Pacific – Peleliu landing
Jeremy Nelson, Lead Compositor
John Mesa, Compositor/Supervisor
Dan Novy, Animator/Compositor
Tyler Cote, Compositor

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project
Regina Welker, Student

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