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'Toy Story 3' Breaks Visual Effects Barrier at BAFTAs

Monkey Business

Yesterday's BAFTA noms are yet another sign of a changing way of thinking about what constitutes a visual effect.

Pixar Animation StudiosToy Story 3 got three BAFTA nominations Tuesday: animated feature, adapted screenplay — and special visual effects, a rare feat for an animated movie.

“Back in the cel animation days, effects meant anything that wasn’t a character,” says Jim Morris, Pixar general manager and executive vp of production. “Now in computer graphics, we have the same type of artists trying to accomplish the same sort of things as in live action — whether creating rain or snow or explosions. It is kind of the same disciplines. It’s a question of how well the VFX are supporting the story and style. It makes sense that the visual effects are judged in the same way, I’m thrilled that the community is doing that. I expect we’ll see more of it.”

Still, in this area the lines are blurred, opinions are varied, and such BAFTA noms in special effects remain rare: Beauty and the Beast (1993), Toy Story (1997) and A Bug’s Life (2000).

This year, Toy Story 3's VFX rivals are Alice in Wonderland, Black Swan, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Inception. Morris cites Toy Story 3''s now-famous VFX incinerator scene. “The gang is in the dumpster and about to be incinerated," says Morris. "The heat and the flame — the intensity of the visual effects work goes so far as to show the direness and drama of the situation. They supported the story and characters.”

Animated films have also made tentative inroads at the Academy Awards, like the visual effects nom of 1993’s stop-motion animated Nightmare Before Christmas. Both Ratatouille and Beowulf reached the Academy’s VFX shortlist of 15, though neither made the next cut.

“This issue of animation versus VFX is a very real, ongoing and current one that lots of people are talking about,” says Eric Roth, executive director of the Visual Effects Society. “The lines between VFX and animation are blurring in order to create the best visuals on screen, look at Avatar or Alice in Wonderland. These crafts are evolving and complimenting each other.”

AMPAS’ annual VFX bakeoff is Jan. 20, and the seven shortlisted films are Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Hereafter, Inception, Iron Man 2, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Tron: Legacy.