'Ratatouille,' 'Beowulf' in Acad's graces



"Beowulf" and "Ratatouille" have been given berths -- rare for animated films -- on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' preliminary contender list for the visual effects Oscar.

Also on the Academy's first list of 15 VFX contenders for this year are "The Bourne Ultimatum," "Evan Almighty," "The Golden Compass," "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," "I Am Legend," "Live Free or Die Hard," "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," "Spider-Man 3," "Sunshine," "300," "Transformers" and "The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep."

The selections procedure is slightly different this year. Awards administration director Rich Miller said the list of 15 was created by the visual effects steering committee from a list of 307 eligible films. The committee will next narrow this list to seven films in early January, and these seven will compete in the traditional "bake-off," in which branch members will vote.

The nominations for the 80th Annual Academy Awards will be announced Jan. 22. Three are picked in the category.

"Tim Burton's the Nightmare Before Christmas," a stop-motion animation-based film, was nominated for an Oscar in the visual effects category in 1994 (before the best animated film category was introduced), believed to be the only animated film to receive a VFX nomination.

"Beowulf" is performance-capture-based, while "Ratatouille" is computer-animated.

Some believe the animated films' inclusion signals a new era.

"It's great for animation people, especially in computer graphics films, where there's a huge amount of visual effects that is very similar in complexity to the kind of work we find in live action," said Jim Morris, Pixar production executive and producer of upcoming "Wall-E."

"It shows the inclusiveness and professionalism of the visual effects branch that looks at that stuff and new technology and see how it's affecting films," he added

"Beowulf" visual effects supervisor Jerome Chen had similar thoughts.

"Part of (the change) is coming from the participants themselves. ... They are using the same techniques we are using in live-action visual effects. We are finding the techniques come from the same mindset."

Chen believes this trend will continue, saying, "an indication of that is more movies that are in production ... blend live action and animation."