If the Visual Effects Society awards are any indication, it would appear to be increasingly certain that we live in uncertain times. Once again, in opening remarks, executive director Eric Roth referred to the precariousness of the very industry that a thousand or so folks had gathered to celebrate at the Beverly Hilton, referring to a “game of chicken” that has beset the industry. He was talking about the news of the last 24 hours, which was on everyone’s mind in the room, without being specific. But the unspoken topic was: Would leading FX house Rhythm & Hues get the cash infusion it needed to stay afloat, or, worse, somehow go under?
Word was that R&H would likely take a $20-million cash infusion, from three studios (Universal, Warner Bros. and Fox) to stay afloat, in part so it could finish some key projects for those studios.
This was particularly ironic in that R&H, led by Bill Westenhofer and crew, was one of the biggest winners of the night. Its work on Life of Pi, and its iconic, and mostly digital tiger, Richard Parker, left an indelible paw print on the feature film side of the evening, copping four awards, including “outstanding animated character in a live action feature motion picture” (for raft-voyaging Mr. Parker) and the evening’s marquee award, outstanding visual effects in a visual effects-driven feature motion picture.
The film’s director, Ang Lee, was also given the VES Visionary award, as he talked about his first experience using effects in his earlier, pre-Avengers version of The Hulk, then needing to retreat to merely doing straightforward dramas, (like Brokeback Mountain), before scaling back up to heavy greenscreen use for the mystical opus that’s also become both a box office hit, and the odds-on favorite to win similar FX accolades at Oscar time.
Richard Edlund, of Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark and other fame, was given the Lifetime Achievement Award, and talked of his journey from Navy camera duties to the “photo-masochism” he endured while helping to pioneer visual effects for TV commercials at Robert Abel & Associates. With a fortuitous meeting of a young, wiry director named George Lucas, in between.
And on a night where a massive earthquake was sending tsunamis over the Solomon Islands, The Impossible, based on family’s survival story from the 2004 Indian Ocean quake and tsunami, won an award for outstanding supporting visual effects in a feature motion picture.
Game of Thrones grabbed its own quartet of awards on the television side, and Brave proved to be the big winner in animation, with its own four wins, including outstanding animation in an animated feature motion picture. Whether this signals some momentum heading into Oscars, after Wreck-It-Ralph won big at the Annies a few days earlier, remains to be seen.
Brave director Mark Andrews was one of the presenters for the evening, dispensing envelopes in several compositing-related categories, and enthused that “compositing makes all this shit look good.”
Indeed, it all looked good. And at a time when movies and TV shows are looking more remarkable than ever, the pervasive irony remains that working to make them look that way can still be a very geographically unreliable form of employment.
That’s the stuff of drama, rather than visual effects – suited, perhaps, to one of the smaller scale films director Lee prefers when working between his own FX opuses.
The winners of The 11th Annual VES Awards are:
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects-Driven Feature Motion Picture
Life of Pi
Donald R. Elliott
Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature Motion Picture
Pau Costa Moeller
Outstanding Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program
Game of Thrones, Volar Morghulis
Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program
Boardwalk Empire, Episode 308
Outstanding Real-Time Visuals in a Video Game
“Call of Duty: Black Ops II”
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Commercial
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project
Despicable Me, Minion Mayhem
Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Life of Pi, Richard Parker
Erik De Boer
Betsy Asher Hall
Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
Outstanding Animated Character in a Commercial or Broadcast Program
Game of Thrones, Training the Dragons
Outstanding Created Environment in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
The Avengers, Midtown Manhattan
Outstanding Created Environment in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
Brave, The Forest
Outstanding Created Environment in a Commercial or Broadcast Program
Game of Thrones, Pyke
Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
R. Christopher White
Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Commercial or Broadcast Program
Outstanding Models in a Feature Motion Picture
The Avengers, Helicarrier
Outstanding FX and Simulation Animation in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
Life of Pi, Storm of God
Outstanding FX and Simulation Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
Michael K. O’Brien
Outstanding FX and Simulation Animation in a Commercial or Broadcast Program
Outstanding Compositing in a Feature Motion Picture
Life of Pi, Storm of God
Outstanding Compositing in a Broadcast Program
Game of Thrones, Episode 210: “White Walker Army”
Outstanding Compositing in a Commercial
Chevy “2012 Silverado”
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project