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Oscar VFX bakeoff session

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By Jill Smolin
How would you describe the sound of an animated shrimp cleaning an animated fish, a sword slicing the air (or a combatant) and the resulting wound inflicted on the defeated? What sound does a fork make when forced into the eye of an almost dead pirate, and how does wood of a tall ship sound when splintered by a cannonball? What do samurai warriors sound like while fighting in battle? What do we hear when we watch horses racing on the damp turf at Santa Anita? And just how does a mumakil sound when felled by an elf?
These questions and more were answered at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Sound Editing Bakeoff Jan. 20. This annual working meeting features seven films selected via secret ballot by the Sound Branch of the Academy to determine whether there will be three or two films (or none) for consideration by the Academy for a Sound Editing Oscar.
Paul Huntsman, a governor in the Academy Sound Branch, opened the meeting with a brief history lesson (the first sound Oscar was presented as a Special Award to Warner Bros. for The Jazz Singer at the first Oscar ceremony in 1929), after which he introduced Douglas Greenfield, this year’s recipient of the John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation, which is awarded on the recommendation of the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee, for “outstanding service and dedication in upholding the high standards of the Academy.”
Huntsman explained the evening’s procedure: voters rate their films on a scale from 6 to 10; those films that garner 8.5 and above will likely be considered; those that score below 8 will probably not. Should only one film earn the necessary numbers, the Academy generates an Award of Merit for the qualifying film, without presenting it for vote to the general membership of the Academy.
Distinguishing this year’s presentation—and adding a challenge for Academy projectionist Carl Belfor—were the formats in which the films were presented: no film had the same format as the one that preceded it; also, it was noted, this was the first year the Sound Editing submissions included digital entries (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Kill Bill, Vol. 1).
Each film was introduced along with its sound editor(s), followed by a 10-minute clip. The shortlisted seven were: Wylie Stateman, supervising sound editor for Kill Bill, Vol. 1; Richard King, supervising sound editor of Master and Commander; Mark P. Stoeckinger, supervising sound editor for The Last Samurai; Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg, supervising sound editors for Seabiscuit; Christopher Boyes and George Watters II, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl; Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins, supervising sound editors The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; and Gary Rydstrom, Michael Silvers for Finding Nemo.
At the evening’s conclusion, the audience had heard countless decaptiations, stormy seas, cannon fire, battling orcs, racing horses, fighting warriors, and bubbles. The results were announced on January 26. Finding Nemo, Master and Commander and Pirates of the Caribbean made the cut for the big event on February 29.

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