Event shows VES trends to great effect

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Nominees for the fifth annual Visual Effects Society Awards showcased their prowess during Show and Tell 2007 — essentially the VES counterpart to AMPAS' visual effects bake-off — Saturday at Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

The event allowed the presenters to explain their work to VES membership before final voting. The Show and Tell also underscored industry VFX trends, notably the extensive use of synthetic environments and the creation of increasingly sophisticated digital characters. These trends were evident in the presentations of the nominees for outstanding visual effects in an effects-driven motion picture, which featured a behind-the-scenes look at the making of "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," "Charlotte's Web" and "The Fountain."

Industrial Light + Magic visual effects supervisor John Knoll related that the big step in "Pirates" was the realistic performance of the CG Davy Jones and crew. This was accomplished using an ILM technique called iMoCap, which allowed the effects team to shoot and reproduce the actors' performances used as the basis for the CG characters on set during the actual shoot, rather than separately on a motion capture stage. Knoll also placed emphasis on digitally enhanced backgrounds, from Cannibal Island to the sea.

Visual effects supervisor John Andrew Berton Jr. described "Charlotte's Web" as a "tremendous example of how visual effects can be used most powerfully. The story could be told the way the author wanted it to be told. … It takes place in a live-action world." He also said the digital characters, including the fully CG spider Charlotte, represented a "notable move forward in more realism in synthetic surfaces. The faces of the animals that speak are much more complex than they would have been previously. The animation was very subtle because it had to match the live action."

The team from "Fountain" described a massive compositing job to create painterly environments that began with the microphotography of Peter Parks combined with CG and practical elements. The goal was to create a unique "outer space" that looked timeless and served as the emotional core of the film.

VES members will participate in final voting for the VES Awards online from Monday-Feb. 6. The competition includes 21 categories for outstanding work in features, broadcast television, commercials, music videos and games.

The VES Awards will be presented Feb. 11 at the Kodak Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland, where the society also will bestow its lifetime achievement award on visual effects pioneer Dennis Muren.

The VES Show and Tell kicked off a big week for the visual effects community. AMPAS' bake-off is set for Wednesday. "Pirates" was the only VES finalist in the visual effects-driven motion picture category to also make the Academy's shortlist. The VES finalists do not typically mirror Academy Award nominees, though in three of the past four years the same film won each.
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