Academy expands visual effects category

Minimum running time of animated entries also changed

As Hollywood injects more and more visual effects into its movies, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has decided to nominate five, rather than three, films in its best visual effects Oscar category.

The new rule -- along with a couple of revisions to the definition of an animated feature -- was announced Thursday as the Academy introduced rule changes for the 83rd Academy Awards, set for Feb. 27.

Each year, the Academy's board of governors reviews the complex rules governing the Oscar race.

This year, the major change affects the visual effects category, which had been limited to three nominees since 1996.

Since 1963, when the special effects award was discontinued and separate categories for achievements in visual effects and sound effects were established, the only period during which it was possible to have five visual effects nominees was 1977 through 1979. In only one of those years, 1979, were five achievements actually recognized. Between 1980 and 1995, two or three productions could be nominated; since 1996 the rules have dictated there be exactly three nominees.

Animated movies that are longer than 40 minutes but shorter than 70 minutes will now be considered in the animated feature film category.

Under the old rules, a film had to be at least 70 minutes to be considered. Under the new rule, an animated feature will qualify if it is longer than 40 minutes, which is consistent with the running time requirements for feature films in all other categories.

The running time for a motion picture to qualify as an animated, live action or documentary short film has been and continues to be a maximum of 40 minutes.

The previous 70-minute threshold for an animated feature had left a gap for ani films that ran between 40 and 70 minutes, effectively preventing them from being able to qualify as either features or shorts.

Also, as movies like a "A Christmas Carol" and "Avatar" break new ground with motion- and performance-capture techniques, the Academy has ruled that motion-capture alone is not an animation technique, stipulating that animated films must be created frame by frame.

The rule now reads, "An animated feature film is defined as a motion picture with a running time of greater than 40 minutes, in which movement and characters' performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique. Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique. In addition, a significant number of the major characters must be animated, and animation must figure in no less than 75% of the picture's running time."

The rules are reviewed annually by individual branch and category committees. The awards rules committee then reviews all proposed changes before presenting its recommendations to the Academy's board of governors for approval.
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