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Backstage at the Oscars

Gravity, Frozen, and Mr. Hublot were the big winners for VFX and animation at Sunday night's 86th Academy Awards. Here's a snapshot of the backstage comments.

All 'Gravity' images (C) 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

As expected, Gravity dominated the crafts at last night's 86th Academy Awards, winning seven Oscars (including VFX and best director for Alfonso Cuaron). Meanwhile, Disney's Frozen took home best animated feature and best original song for "Let It Go," and Mr. Hublot beat the favored Mickey Mouse in Get A Horse! Here's a sampling of backstage comments.

"The amazing thing actually is not so much the visual effects aspect, but... Sandra," Cuaron remarked.  "That under the conditions that she was performing, the relationship actor/director was as if we were doing just a scene at the dinner table.  So there was no obstacle around all the physicality, all the strain, all the complicated amount of cues that required ‑‑ and the amazing amount of make‑believe that it was required.  It's like she had to absorb absolutely everything.  Her power of abstraction was fantastic.  And, no, not because I did a good job, it's because Sandra is amazing."

Cuaron also gave a shout-out to the UK film industry, where he's shot his last three movies: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of AzkabanChildren of Men, and Gravity. "Definitely the quality and sophistication of the British film industry made this film happen.  I'm talking specifically about companies like Framestore or the amazing crew that I worked with. This is the third film that I have done in the UK.  I have done more films in the UK than in any other country in the world.  But again, two things is the British film industry and then the British film culture.  And the great thing is that the British film culture is in as good shape as the American industry right now.  And it's obviously, like Mexico, more venues, more support and more incentives…”

"But I think that the important thing was also the reverse engineering of the whole process," Cuaron continued, "because as opposed to a conventional film in which post‑production ‑‑ visual effects are part of the post‑production, and cinematography has very little relationship with visual effects.  Here's a film in which editing, visual effects and cinematography started pretty much two years before we started shooting in order to be able to integrate all those elements."

Framestore VFX Supervisor Tim Webber, who collected the award alongside CG Supervisor Chris Lawrence, Animation Supervisor David Shirk and Special Effects Supervisor Neil Corbould, did not appear backstage, but, in accepting the award, said: "It seemed like a crazy project, so thank you to Warner Bros. and, in particular, Chris deFaria, for believing in it, to George Clooney and especially Sandra Bullock for filling our effects with life and emotion, but most of all to Alfonso Cuaron for having with Jonas the vision of this breath-taking film, the audacity to make it happen and the courage to trust us in having such a big part in making it come to life. Finally, thank you to all our families and the families of the visual effects artists. Thank you very much."

All 'Frozen' images © 2013 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Frozen director Jennifer Lee reiterated the importance of "Let It Go," which became the film's anthem and has been embraced around the world.  “Well, we worked together with them every day via video conference for a few hours a day for about 14 months.  We went back and forth and 'Let It Go' for us was a game changer.  When we heard that, we knew that we could do something very special with Elsa and we rewrote the movie.  So we understood and really felt the emotional power of that song and we're so happy for them they're nominated.”

Director Chris Buck, who's enjoying his second renaissance at Disney alongside his old CalArts pal, John Lasseter, stressed the importance of the Norway research trip. “When we sent our art director [Michael Giaimo] and the lighting team over to Norway, they came back so inspired.  The mountains, the vastness of the mountains going down the Fjords, all the detailing of the [inaudible] where they brought so much back from that trip from Norway that we really feel it added a lot of believability to the world we were creating."

The husband and wife song writing team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez described their personal connection to "Let It Go" and are looking forward to expanding the musical world for the upcoming Broadway musical. "You know, we really think of our kids ‑‑ when we were writing Frozen, we thought of our girls because we have two girls, just like Elsa and Anna, and we wanted to write a song that would sort of instill in them the idea that shame and fear should not prevent them from being the magical people that they really are."

'Mr Hublot' image courtesy of Laurent Witz.

Mr. Hublot's director, Lauren Witz, who is developing both an animated feature and a TV series, told me how important it was to make this a relatable slice of life despite the detailed universe that evokes both Brazil and steampunk. "The thing is that we developed the relationship between Mr. Hublot and the dog [Robo Pet], but it was in order to put poetry in the film -- to bring emotions through characters. That was [more important than] so much work on details."


Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and VFXWorld and the owner of Immersed in Movies ( He's a contributor to Animation Scoop and Thompson on Hollywood at Indiewire, and author of James Bond Unmasked (, which is now available on Kindle with a new Skyfall chapter.

Bill Desowitz's picture

Bill Desowitz, former editor of VFXWorld, is currently the Crafts Editor of IndieWire.