VES Summit: Will 'Gravity' Prompt Push for 'Visual Imaging' Oscar?

Cinematography, art direction and visual effects are so blended in new movies that it might be time for a new Oscar category to be introduced, admitted Hawk Koch, past president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and current co-president of Producers Guild of America.

His suggestion? Something along the lines of "visual imaging."

Koch, current Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and past president Sid Ganis discussed this blurring of the lines during an AMPAS presidents session at Visual Effects Society's annual summit Saturday at the W hotel in Hollywood.

A key question was raised: How much does the success of VFX-driven films stem from visual effects, and how much does it depend on cinematography? And what impact might the answer to that question have on Oscar frontrunner Gravity?

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"The action of Sandra [Bullock's] body is key frame animation [meaning that it was animated by hand], and that qualifies Gravity as an animated film," pointed out moderator Bill Kroyer, director of digital arts at Chapman University.

That led the group to raise other questions, for instance: Did Gravity director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki photograph the film?

Director Alfonso Cuaron has said that roughly 80 percent of Gravity was hand animated in the computer. In fact, when the actors are seen in space, only their faces come from live action photography. The environment, their bodies, even the visors in front of their faces, are CG. The helmer also said that Lubezki was involved in determining the lightning for the entire film, which included going to lead VFX house Framestore to work with the digital artists.

In discussing this topic during the panel, Kroyer provided some history. "The Academy gave Oscars to the cinematography on Avatar and Life of Pi, and there was a lot of discussion into the fact that a lot of that was VFX. … [Life of Pi director of photography] Claudio Miranda was really setting the tone of the movie; on the other hand, there was so much other work happening."

"We are constantly reviewing," Boone Isaacs reported. "Technology is changing the definitions of what we do. Many members were confused between the Oscars for cinematography and visual effects on Life of Pi. We will be discussing the differences that have been made with these advancements."

Acknowledging this "blending" of craft disciplines, Koch got a laugh from the crowd when he joked: "The only thing we still haven't been able to figure out is what producers do."

E-mail: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com
Twitter: @CGinLA

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