For the 10th edition of its annual award show, the Visual Effects Society was unafraid to state its growing awareness of how pivotal the role of wrangling digits has become in making motion pictures, and also its growing awareness of how much Hollywood seems to take all that for granted.
It began with VES president Eric Roth’s opening remarks that “we’ve become the proverbial center of the entertainment industry” – and one of the few professional trade groups that is continually adapting to the outsourcing models used by entertainment corporations as “29 countries, all told” had VES members involved in the nominating and voting of prize winners.
At the same, the working conditions of those far flung workers – unrecompensed overtime, etc. – was noted, and as was the pervasiveness of the craft in all aspects of productions.
Though it was also a night for noting the long history of the craft as well, starting with a surprise appearance by Martin Scorcese, who talked of Georges Melies – the inspiration for his Hugo – and also, at this digital juncture, of the “strength of celluloid” as a means of preserving the history of the art (with more “lost” Melies shorts – which Scorcese termed a necessary bridge between the tableau vivant of the 19th century, and film of the 20th.
Other history was bridged when Douglas Trumbull received the Georges Melies Award itself (though of course all VES statuettes are in the shape of Melies’ iconic “Man in the Moon”) for his work spanning Kubrick’s 2001, through Blade Runner and current best picture nominee Tree of Life.
Trumbull mentioned the biz was at a “weird moment,” with the industry only wanting to do tentpoles, and how he’d been lucky to get a piece of Close Encounters’ net profits – amazingly, there were actually net profits – and thought everyone in the room should similarly share in the proceeds for doing the lavish work becoming the industry norm.
Though he was trying to make that “norm” an even more enveloping experience, conducting experiments with footage running at 120 fps, shown on a 30-foot screen – the obligation, he averred, was to make movie-going in theaters something distinct from what’s available at home, or on your smartphone.
Stan Lee – touchingly introduced by Lou Ferrigno (“there’s a little Hulk in all of us,” he declared, when speaking of tapping one’s own inner strength) – received the lifetime achievement award, for creating so many characters that provided so much work for the people in the room – the very work they spend overtime hours on, and in whose profits they don’t share.
Lee was very gracious and talked in a meta way about his own speech. (“Now here’s a funny part… I don’t expect a dry eye in the house after this next paragraph,”) telling of how he was ready to quit the comics biz when his wife suggested he might as well write comics the way he wanted to, since they would then fire him anyway.
The result was the Fantastic Four, followed by Spider-Man and then Iron Man and The Hulk. And now, as the titular head of the newish Pow! Entertainment, he declared his goal was to keep everyone in the room working a lot longer.
This met with appreciative laughter from all the various representatives of the aforementioned 29 countries.
Meanwhile, on an awards watch note, Rango was the big winner with four statues, including the VES equivalent of best animated feature, i.e., “best visual effects in an animated film,” making it more of a favorite to win a similar statue on Oscar night.
Hugo won a pair of awards, including best visual effects in a feature motion picture while Rise of the Planet of the Apes won the evening’s last word, for best FX in an FX-driven film. Though arguably, Hugo and Apes could’ve switched statues (since Hugo, after all, is about the creation of visual effects to begin with) and perhaps all parties would still be as happy.
In any case, it makes Apes even more of a favorite to win the VFX category on Academy night (especially since Harry Potter was shut out in its last go-round, though Transformers picked up a couple).
Rob Legato, the VFX supervisor for Hugo, presented a couple of awards and noted it was watching Trumbull’s work in Close Encounters, in a theater with his dad, that made visual effects work seem so thrilling and daunting. But the greater synchronicity for him was that he won a statuette based on Melies’ most famous image, for a film based on Melies’ himself – the only time this was likely to happen in VES history.
What’s next? he was asked in the lobby on the way out. “He needs to work on a film about the Oscar statue,” his wife quipped.
Or as Stan Lee might put it: “’Nuff said.”
The winners of the 10th Annual VES Awards are:
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects-Driven Feature Motion Picture
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Dan Lemmon, Joe Letteri, Cyndi Ochs and Kurt Williams
Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature Motion Picture
Ben Grossmann, Alex Henning, Rob Legato and Karen Murphy
Outstanding Visual Effects in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
Tim Alexander, Hal Hickel, Jacqui Lopez and Katie Lynch
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Broadcast Miniseries, Movie, or Special
Inside the Human Body
Phil Dobree, Sophie Orde and Dan Upton
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Broadcast Series
Terra Nova – “Occupation & Resistance”
Kevin Blank, Colin Brady, Adica Manis and Jason Zimmerman
Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program
Game of Thrones – “Winter is Coming”
Lucy Ainsworth-Taylor, Angela Barson, Ed Bruce and Adam McInnes
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Live Action Commercial
Pascal Giroux, Julien Meesters, Stephane Pivron and Manuel Souillac
Outstanding Visual Effects in an Animated Commercial or Video Game Trailer
Diablo III: “The Black Soulstone”
Nicholas S. Carpenter, Graham Cunningham, Chris Thunig and Taka Yasuda
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project
Transformers the Ride: The Ultimate 3D Battle
Lori Arnold, Yanick Dusseault, Delio Tramontozzi and Jeff White
Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Caesar
Daniel Barrett, Florian Fernandez, Matthew Muntean and Eric Reynolds
Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
Rango – Rango
Frank Gravatt, Kevin Martel, Brian Paik and Steve Walton
Outstanding Animated Character in a Broadcast Program or Commercial
Canal+ “The Bear”
Laurent Creusot, Guillaume Ho, Olivier Mitonneau and Michal Nauzin
Outstanding Created Environment in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Transformers: Dark of the Moon – 155 Wacker Drive
Giles Hancock, John Hanson, Tom Martinek and Scott Younkin
Outstanding Created Environment in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
Rango – Main Street Dirt
John Bell, Polly Ing, Martin Murphy and Russell Paul
Outstanding Created Environment in a Broadcast Program or Commercial
Game of Thrones – The Icewall
Markus Kuha, Dante Harbridge Robinson, Damien Mac and Fani Vassiadi
Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Martin Chamney, Rob Legato, Adam Watkins and Fabio Zangla
Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
Rango – The Dirt Saloon
Colin Benoit, Philippe Rebours, Nelson Sepulveda and Nick Walker
Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Broadcast Program or Commercial
Gears of War 3 – Dust to Dust
Niles Heckman, Richard Morton and Vernon Wilbert Jr.
Outstanding Models in a Feature Motion Picture
Transformers: Dark of the Moon – Driller
Tim Brakensiek, Kelvin Chu, David Fogler and Rene Garcia
Outstanding Models in a Broadcast Program or Commercial
Boardwalk Empire – Georgia Peaches
Matthew Conner, Eran Dinur, David Reynolds and Szymon Weglarski
Outstanding Compositing in a Feature Motion Picture
Captain America: The First Avenger – Skinny Steve
Casey Allen, Trent Claus, Brian Hajek and Cliff Welsh
Outstanding Compositing in a Broadcast Program or Commercial
Boardwalk Empire – “Gimcrack & Bunkum”
Anton Dawson. Eran Dinur, Austin Meyers and David Reynolds
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project
Roman Kaelin, Falko Paeper and Florian Wittmann