It’s awards season again—a time when visual and special effects artists can dress in those forgotten tuxedos to stand and be counted. But in order to be considered, one must first pass through fire—be it pyrotechnics or computer generated. This week kicked off the season for effects artists, with two separate events—the Show and Tell for the Visual Effects Society (VES) Awards and the Bakeoff for Oscar contenders.5th Annual VES Awards Show & TellIn the morning hours of January 13, VES members and guests arrived at the 5th Annual VES Awards Show & Tell at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.There are 23 VES awards categories, but the Show and Tell is narrowed to eight or 10 of the most significant, representing film, TV, commercials and games. Two to four productions from each category had 15 minutes apiece to explain their work and showreel. It’s an informal event attended by old and new friends, accompanied by camaraderie, applause and laughter.This is the event for those who crave the inside information on the technicalities of VFX. You can review the information online as well, but not at the level available in person—details such as in Mission Impossible III how Shanghai turns off its lights at 11:00, but the Shanghai Tower shoot was scheduled against the spectacular skyline at midnight; or how the sweeping opening shot of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest was 95 percent computer generated.Every category title at the Show and Tell started with the word outstanding and the contenders vied for consideration ranging from “Visual Effects in an Effects Driven Film” to “Real-Time Visuals in a Video Game” or “Visual Effects in a Broadcast Series.”Films represented included Blood Diamond, Flags of Our Fathers, Poseidon, Charlotte’s Web and The Fountain. Television nominations for individual shows, commercials or music videos included Alias, Commander in Chief, ER, Elizabeth I, Battlestar Galactica, Prehistoric Park, Smallville, as well as the spots “Rexona”, “Sears Tools” and “Travelers.” Games included Assassin’s Creed X06 Trailer and Fight Night Round 3.For a complete listing of contenders, go to www.visualeffectssociety.com.Winners will be announced on February 11 at an “Animation Black Tie” event at Hollywood’s Kodak Theater. And to top off the evening, Academy Award-winning visual effects pioneer Dennis Muren will receive the VES Lifetime Achievement Award.Academy Awards Visual Effects BakeoffOn the evening of January 17, Academy Visual Effects Branch chairman Jonathan Erland launched the proceedings and introduced the Bakeoff contenders, narrowed to seven films from a total of 306, to vie for the three coveted nominations. Erland stated that films themselves are a visual effect and that “throughout our history we have enhanced with an increasingly rich tapestry of visual artistry.”Boyd Shermis (Poseidon), John Bruno (X-Men: The Last Stand), Steve Begg (Casino Royale), Jim Rygiel (Night at the Museum), Michael McAlister (Eragon), Mark Stetson (Superman Returns), and John Knoll (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest) each presented on behalf of the effects work they headed up on the films. Each had the opportunity to review the tricks used to create the magic, to thank those who made it possible, and to call attention to effects that have become so integrated and refined they are almost easy to miss.Shermis spoke about Poseidon and the complicated miniature work involving a sixth-scale and quarter-scale miniature combined, photographed using high-speed motion control triggering over 100 pyrotechnic and mechanical events. The ballroom required 100,000 gallons of water to be dumped on the set. As the glass windows were breaking, they bowed over an inch from the pressure. And when they broke, they were backed with aquariums. The camera was not shooting into bluescreen.Bruno offered insight to the stunt work and the extensive miniature work on X-Men: The Last Stand. They reproduced the Golden Gate Bridge in sections, six lanes across and 250 feet long, about the size of a football field. A tenth scale miniature was 60 feet long, plus a completely digital version of the entire bridge was designed in the computer.Begg brought some endearing humor to the show. His team on Casino Royale was tasked with a 600 FX shots, in a mix that included rotoscoping and miniature work.Rygiel again was tasked to work with tiny people (he was the visual effects supervisor on Lord Of The Rings). He and Dan Deleeuw came up with a technology for shooting dioramas with depth information so they could composite in the cowboys and Romans for Night at the Museum.McAlister wowed the audience with Eragon’s fantastic digital dragon. Meanwhile, Stetson had so many scenes from Superman Returns to share he covered what was both on and off the presentation reel. He talked about a gimbal that was 60 foot long, 20 feet high, 23 feet wide, used to accomplish extreme angles.And last but not least was Pirates’ John Knoll. They used full-sized sets of the three main ships plus a 24-foot miniature of the Black Pearl. Most of the production happened in the course of five months, and they had to average 15 finished shots per day. At one point, they went through 12, 55-gallon drums of fog oil a day.
Written by Renee Dunlop