Animated Sandra Bullock Gets VES Nomination as Lines Between Live-Action, Visual Effects Blur


Warner Bros.' space drama Gravity became an out-of-this-world box office hit when it opened in theaters in October. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, the pic scored a stunning $55.8 million from 3,575 theaters, setting a new October opening weekend record. It surpassed Paranormal Activity 3's $52.6 million debut in 2011. It went on to pass the $400 million mark at the global box office to become October's highest grossing live-action film release of all time. It's earned $652.3 million worldwide to date.

Sandra Bullock, who is vying for a best actress Oscar nomination for her performance in Gravity, may be surprised to learn that she was playing an animated character. But underscoring the blurring of the lines between visual effects and live action, the VFX team behind the actress' Ryan Stone character earned a nomination for outstanding animated character in a live action feature when nominations for the 12th annual Visual Effects Society Awards were announced Tuesday morning. With eight noms Gravity led this list of nominees, and in the category of animated character in a live action film, the VFX team behind Gravity's Ryan Stone will square off against the VFX teams that created the China Girl in Oz the Great and Powerful: the Kaiju, Leatherback in Pacific Rim; and Smaug, the dragon in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

In all of Gravity’s scenes set in space, only Bullock’s face is live action. The rest — the space suit, the helmet, and even the visor over her face — is computer animated.

However, if Bullock receives an Oscar nomination (she already has a string of nominations, including ones from BAFTA and SAG), it won’t be the first time an actor playing a character cited in this VES category has earned an Oscar nom. In 2009, Brad Pitt was nominated for an Oscar for his title role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, while the CG version of Benjamin aging in reverse won the VES Award for animated character.

Looking back, there have been other actors who have played characters that were nominated in this VES category -- notably Andy Serkis for his roles as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as well as Zoe Saldana for her role as Neytiri in Avatar. While, despite campaigns on their behalf, they didn't earn Oscar nominations, their characters were winners at the VES Awards. In those cases, the creation of the characters involved the use of performance capture. (That was not the technique used to create Ryan in Gravity). 

A few months ago, I asked Serkis if in the general sense, he is seeing any changes in the perception of performances where an actor's on-screen appearance involves CG. He said he does.

"I think [the acting community] is realizing performance capture is an amazing tool and an amazing way of telling stories and is not something to be afraid of. You are not going to be replaced. It only offers more work," he said. "You can play anything. Why should this be any different than wearing makeup?”

Added Serkis: “You also have had actors like Willem Defoe and Ellen Page doing amazing performances in video games (they used performance capture to make Beyond: Two Souls)."

The complete list of this year’s VES Award nominees can be found here


Twitter: @CGinLA