Bill Desowitz reports back from the VES Awards, where the best in visual effects for 2003 and the career of George Lucas were honored.
It was a very long night lasting until midnight but the second annual VES Awards dinner held at the Hollywood Palladium on Feb. 18 was worth the emotional journey. The Visual Effects Society paid tribute to the career and legacy of George Lucas with its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award; it affectionately presented outgoing VES exec director Tom Atkin with the inaugural Board of Directors Award for his tireless efforts over the past seven years in the creation of the society and its signature events and international festivals; and it honored The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King with four golden Melies Moon Man trophies (including the top prize for outstanding vfx in a motion picture).
But the VES judiciously spread the wealth around in the movie categories, honoring Pirates of the Caribbean, the neglected Matrix Reloaded and Master and Commander and The Last Samurai (for their invisible CG artistry) and Finding Nemo. In TV, Carnivale (with vfx by Encore Hollywood) was singled out along with Battlestar Galactica and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (both of which had vfx courtesy of Zoic), while Johnny Walker Fish (with vfx from Framestore CFC) took the prize for commercials and Missy Elliot Pass That Dutch won for music videos (thanks to vfx by Radium).
And although journalists were forewarned that there would be no access to Lucas, he graciously visited the pressroom twice for interviews, fielding questions about Star Wars Episode III, the September DVD debut of Episodes IV-VI, Indiana Jones 4 (Frank Darabont is definitely off the project as screenwriter), his commitment to digital cinema and future filmmaking plans.
Were perfecting what we learned on Clones using digital technology, Lucas offered. More bluescreen, more digital effects and creating the illusion in a more malleable way less expensive and more effective.
Lucas added that he would like to see Episode III play on more than 1,000 digital screens when it opens in the summer of 2005, that the DVDs of the first trilogy (special editions only) will be cleaner and sharper than ever before, thanks to the latest digital technology and that he plans on venturing into smaller filmmaking post Star Wars.
As for the Star Wars legacy, Lucas admitted that viewing the two trilogies in chronological order would be a vastly different experience for neophytes. [It] will be a different feeling about story than seeing them backwards IV through VI and then I through III, which is one of the designs of how it was put together. So, actually, look forward to a new generation seeing it a completely different way.
All of the winners echoed the point that this is a very creative and exciting time to be in the vfx industry, despite the time constraints invariably faced by everyone large and small. Visual effects supervisor Jim Rygiel lauded the tireless work of director Peter Jackson on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, saying he pushed everyone to achieve greater and greater realism. He shoots these like live-action dramas, not visual effects [movies] pushing the camera closer and closer to the actors [and the action]. Now that the Weta gang knows what to expect from Jackson and how unpredictable he can be, they can be better prepared to handle the upcoming King Kong, which will be just as daunting as Lord of the Rings with its seamless mix of CG and practical effects.
And the Zoic team proudly stressed the cutting edge work that theyve accomplished for a lot less money and in less time as a result of talent, passion and digital technology.
Backstage Lucas lauded all the digital work being done throughout the various media, proclaiming it the storytelling tool of the 21st century, and citing Master and Commander and Lord of the Rings as two of his recent favorites. His proposed Digital Arts Center in San Franciscos Presidio (housing ILM and Lucas Arts, among others) will continue to push the digital revolution.
The digital revolution does not change the basics of storytelling, Lucas said during his acceptance speech. It does change the way we work and how we convert our imaginary characters.
As Steven Spielberg pointed out in his filmed intro, George Lucas is the greatest innovator in the field of visual arts and special effects that Ive ever known, and I have been the beneficiary as so many of us have to Georges eye to what he sees and what he sees is what you eventually get. It just takes him about 800 people and hundreds of millions of dollars of studio money to build this vast empire of technology and creative artists that come together in a kind of synergy to put things on the screen that you and I get to see
But Lucas stressed the emotional connections in his acceptance speech: We use technology to transfer emotions to other human beings.
Speaking for two generations, Cameron, who presented Lucas with his award, thanked him for Star Wars: The watershed moment that legitimized sci-fi film fantasy. Credit Lucas with flogging visual effects technology to catch up with our imaginations.
An emotional Jeff Okun, chair of the VES 2004 Awards committee, was shocked when he won the Outstanding Support Visual Effects for a Motion Picture for The Last Samurai. He was sure that Bad Boys 2 would win and even voted for it. But Okun was just as proud to proclaim that next year the VES Awards would institute online voting for all of its members. He quipped that that it was about time the VES took advantage of the Internet.
But no one was more emotional than Atkin, who was totally surprised by his award. Because of his seminal role at the inception of the organization, Atkin was given a VES membership card numbered 0000 and was also acknowledged with a warm standing ovation among the 700 in attendance. Backstage, Atkin acknowledged that it was time to move on this summer, since he is more of an architect than a manager, but would help further VES ties as a consultant in Europe, where there are three festivals.
On the lighter side, in accepting his award, Lucas said, Finally, an award for Howard the Duck.
Meanwhile, two themes prevailed during the acceptance speeches. The first was thanking wives and kids for putting up with their long hours and pushing them to succeed. But it was Joseph Brattesani, while accepting for Smallville Insurgence, who started the hilarious second theme that ran throughout the night: I want to say thank you to my wife because I do want to get laid.
Then they were off and running. Andrew Gordon, accepting for Finding Nemo, Speaking Whale, said, I want to thank my lovely fiancée. I also want to get laid.
Presenter Rob Legato quipped, Its refreshing to know that at least one of us in the visual effects world is getting laid.
Rygiel, when accepting the final award of the evening, said he wanted to thank the 23,000 people he worked with on The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Now whos getting laid tonight!
The winners were:
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects-Driven Motion Picture The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Jim Rygiel, Dean Wright, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook
Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Motion Picture The Last Samurai Jeffrey A. Okun, Thomas Boland, Bill Mesa, Ray McIntyre Jr.
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Television Miniseries, Movie or a Special Battlestar Galactica Gary Hutzel, Kristen L. Branan, Emile E. Smith, Lee Stringer
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Television Series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 7, Episode #22 Loni Peristere, Patti Gannon, Ronald Thornton, Chris Zapara
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Commercial Johnnie Walker Fish Murray Butler, William Bartlett, Jake Mengers, Helen Mackenzie
Outstanding Visual Effects in a Music Video Missy Elliott Pass That Dutch Jonathan Keeton, Aladino Debert, Andy McKenna, Scott Rader
Best Single Visual Effect of the Year in any Medium The Matrix Revolutions Trailer Top Crash John Gaeta, Dan Glass, Adrian de Wett, Greg Juby
Outstanding Character Animation in a Live Action Motion Picture The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Steven Hornby, Andy Serkis, Matthias Menz, Greg Butler
Outstanding Character Animation in an Animated Motion Picture Finding Nemo Speaking Whale Andrew Gordon, Brett Coderre
Outstanding Special Effects in Service to Visual Effects in a Motion Picture Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Geoff Heron, Robert Clot, Jason Brackett, John McLeod
Outstanding Special Effects in Service to Visual Effects in a Televised Program, Music Video or Commercial Carnivale Pilot Thomas L. Bellissimo, Charles Belardinelli
Outstanding Matte Painting in a Motion Picture Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Yanick Dusseault, Susumu Yukuhiro, Jonathan Harb
Outstanding Matte Painting in a Televised Program, Music Video or Commercial Smallville Insurgence Eli Jarra, Joseph Brattesani, Brian Bell
Outstanding Models and Miniatures in a Motion Picture The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Richard Taylor, Paul Van Ommen, Eric Saindon
Outstanding Models and Miniatures in a Televised Program, Music Video or Commercial Helen of Troy Anthony Ocampo
Outstanding Visual Effects Photography in a Motion Picture The Matrix Reloaded U-Cap Facial Photography Kim Libreri, George Borshukov, Paul Ryan, John Gaeta
Outstanding Compositing in a Motion Picture Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World Storm Philip R. Brennan
Outstanding Compositing in a Televised Program, Music Video or Commercial Smallville Accelerate Mat Beck, Eli Jarra, Ivan DeWolf, Brian Harding
Outstanding Performance by a Male or Female Actor in an Effects Film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Sean Astin
The Visual Effects Society (www.visualeffectssociety.com), founded in 1997, is comprised of distinguished visual effects artists and technologists who are professionally committed to the specialized industry of visual effects. The society provides its members with a platform for communication, education, and recognition of the current and future state of the visual effects industry. Society headquarters are located in Santa Monica, California, with approximately 900 global members.
Bill Desowitz is editor of VFXWorld.com