A ripple effect

The Visual Effects Society's 10th anniversary marks a decade of explosive growth for the industry.

When the Visual Effects Society was formed a decade ago, the world of digital effects was brand-new, struggling to find stability and acceptance in a conservative film industry. Its handful of pioneering artists were struggling as well, trying to open new companies and sell a service no one knew they needed.

Founding director Jim Morris, executive vp production at Pixar Animation Studios, recalls the small group of die-hard visual effects professionals whose casual meeting eventually resulted in the formation of the VES. "We had an informal conversation about doing something together as an industry, but it didn't get too far," he says. "The companies were young and competitive, and it wasn't very collegial at that time. It was more like a frontier town."

Ten years later, with spectacular and invisible effects appearing in nearly every movie released, those Wild West days are over.

What was originally envisioned as an honorary organization dedicated to advancing the arts, sciences and applications of visual arts is the entertainment industry's only organization representing the spectrum of practitioners -- nearly 1,500 of them in 16 countries, ranging from artists to computer geeks to studio executives -- involved in creating visual effects for film, television, commercials, music videos and games. And at the fifth annual VES Awards on Sunday at the Kodak Ballroom in Hollywood, the industry's effects professionals will fete the creators of the year's outstanding artistic achievements.

Morris attributes the VES' current success to growing the organization slowly. "We were thoughtful about how we grew and expanded," Morris says. "We wanted to build up some substance before we started an awards show." The organization got its legs by focusing on technology, in one case helping the industry transition from the Silicon Graphics operating platform to Linux. "We went to various manufacturers and software companies as a group and told them that, as a group of visual effects facilities, this was the direction we wanted to go," Morris says.

Although the VES has no negotiating power with the studios, another committee is currently at work to standardize artists' titles in the end-credit crawl. Other major efforts include an archive of visual effects artwork, equipment and memorabilia, which is a joint project with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; an annual festival with screenings and forum; and participation in the eDIT VES Festival in Germany. Growth of the organization is still a top goal.

"We recognize that there are 20,000-30,000 visual effects practitioners around the world," Roth says. "We don't need or want everyone to be a part of it. We want the best of the best -- people who are working to promote the craft and its position in the industry."