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The Visual Effects Society at press time was weighing the format for its 20th annual awards presentation because of the omicron surge. Whatever form it takes, this year’s awards coincide with the 25th anniversary of its founding in early 1997, at a time when VFX on movies such as Titanic were in production.
Reflecting advances in diversity within the society’s leadership, in 2021 VES elected its first woman board chair, Lisa Cooke, a VFX veteran and producer at Tippett Studio. And, with this month’s election, the society now has its first slate of all-female VFX veterans as board officers: first vice chair Emma Clifton Perry, second vice chair Susan O’Neal, treasurer Laurie Blavin and Rita Cahill, who is serving her seventh term as secretary.
“I’m thrilled to have a wonderful executive committee of such talented women,” Cooke says, noting that this reflects increasing diversity and inclusion within the VFX field and underscores society initiatives such as its mentoring and outreach efforts “to reach people that are underrepresented in our industry.”
Emphasizing that VES has an estimated 4,000 members in 40 countries, Cooke adds that another mission is to “strengthen the global community of our society” by expanding communication as well as mentoring and education efforts.
In the VES nominations announced Jan. 18, Warner Bros.’ Dune led the feature competition with six nominations, including one in the top category of outstanding VFX in a photoreal feature. Dune‘s VFX were overseen by two-time Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Paul Lambert (First Man, Blade Runner 2049) and lead VFX studio DNEG.
In the top category, Dune is nominated alongside Disney/Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which earned four nominations; Sony/Marvel’s Spider-Man: No Way Home and Legendary/Warners’ Godzilla vs. Kong, with three nominations apiece; Warners’ The Matrix Resurrections, with two noms; and EON/MGM-UA’s No Time to Die.
Of the VES-nominated animated features, Disney’s Encanto leads with six nominations, followed by Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon and Disney/Pixar’s Luca with five apiece. All three are nominated for outstanding VFX in an animated feature alongside Illumination/Universal’s Sing 2 and Sony Pictures Animation/Netflix’s The Mitchells vs. the Machines.
Disney/Marvel’s Loki leads the TV field with four nominations, including in the category for outstanding VFX in a photoreal episode, for which episodes of Foundation, Lost in Space, The Nevers and The Stand are additionally nominated. Reflecting the evolution of technology is the newer category for outstanding virtual cinematography in a CG project. Those nominees include the popular “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” musical number in Disney’s Encanto; the ocean battle in Godzilla vs. Kong; and sequences from Loki, Raya and the Last Dragon and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Nominees for outstanding created environment in a photoreal feature demonstrate complexity in work, such as Arrakeen City in Dune, Waterfall Canyon in Jungle Cruise, the Mirror Dimension in Spider-Man: No Way Home and Valle Del Marre in The Suicide Squad. In the created environments category for animated features, the society nominated Antonio’s Room in Encanto, Portorosso Piazza in Luca, the land of Talon in Raya and the Last Dragon, the Crystal Theater in Sing 2 and the Mambo Cabana in Sony Pictures Animation/Netflix’s Vivo.
The first VES Awards were presented Feb. 19, 2003, at the Skirball Cultural Center, where Weta’s work on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers won the top prize, which at the time was called “best VFX in an effects-driven motion picture.”
Since then, the society has honored VFX achievements including digital characters such as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Benjamin Button in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Neytiri in Avatar. The awards also have recognized digitally created environments, from Pandora in Avatar to the Paris Dreamscape in Inception and the Pridelands in Jon Favreau’s 2019 version of The Lion King. Among newer categories, one for virtual cinematography has honored work in groundbreaking films like Gravity, The Jungle Book and The Lion King.
Among VES’ plans for its milestone 25th anniversary is an archival initiative through which it aims to launch a “digital museum” before year’s end. “Our mission is to capture, preserve and share the rich history of this industry for generations to come,” Cooke explains, adding that this includes “stories of those luminaries and the techniques from the past and the present so that they won’t be lost to the future.”
This story first appeared in the Jan. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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