ILM back in the picture with visual effects win


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For the team behind "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," winning the Oscar for best visual effects was a bit like reclaiming a treasure that had long been buried.

While the victory gave lead effects house Industrial Light + Magic its 13th Academy Award in the category, it also ended a 14-year dry spell for the company, which had not brought home an Oscar for VFX since 1994, when it earned a statuette for "Forrest Gump."

ILM visual effects supervisor John Knoll thanked producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski as he accepted the award, which he shared with Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and Allen Hall.

Before 1994, ILM dominated the category, with staffers earning Oscars in 1993 for "Jurassic Park," 1992 ("Death Becomes Her"), 1991 ("Terminator 2: Judgment Day"), 1989 ("The Abyss"), 1988 ("Who Framed Roger Rabbit"), 1987 ("Innerspace"), 1985 ("Cocoon") and 1984 ("Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom").

ILM also won visual effects Oscars for all three films in the first "Star Wars" trilogy as well for as the classics "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial."

In recent years, though, the category has become increasingly competitive with the emergence of such companies as Digital Domain, Sony Pictures Imageworks and Weta Digital.

But "Dead Man's Chest" wasn't only the biggest boxoffice hit of 2006, it also gave moviegoers a view of seafaring creatures unlike any they had ever seen.

Knoll said that the big step in "Dead Man's Chest" was the realistic performance of the CG Davy Jones and crew, which was accomplished using an ILM technique called iMoCap. It 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 the movie's Cannibal Island to the sea.

For Knoll, this was his fourth Oscar nomination. He also nominated as visual effects supervisor on "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" and "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones" as well as "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl."

Knoll is working as visual effects supervisor on "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," which Buena Vista Pictures has scheduled for release May 25. Also working on "At World's End" are fellow winners Hickel, Gibson and Hall.

"Dead Man's Chest" was the second Oscar nom for ILM animation supervisor Hickel, who was nominated alongside Knoll for "The Curse of the Black Pearl." Gibson has one previous win, for "Babe," and a third nomination for "The Curse of the Black Pearl."

"Dead Man's Chest" also brought a second Oscar for Hall, who was honored for "Gump." He also received nominations for "Mighty Joe Young" and "Backdraft."