John Lasseter Tribute Dominates 4th Annual VES Awards

Last night’s Fourth Annual presentation of the Visual Effect Society Awards in Hollywood aimed to honor the best vfx work of 2005 in all media. However, because this year’s George Melies Award for Artistic Excellence recipient was Disney/Pixar’s man of the hour, John Lasseter, the event overflowed with the genuine admiration and warmth the industry feels for this animation visionary and leader.

Heart-felt tributes by some of the actors who have voiced Pixar movies included Craig T. Nelson (Mr. Incredible) and stars of this summer’s Cars–Bonnie Hunt, Edie McClurg, Katherine Helmond, Cheech Marin and John Ratzenberger were sprinkled throughout the evening. The salute to Lasseter featured touching clips of his early years as a CG animation pioneer (accompanied by ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ from Pinocchio) and a taped congratulatory message from none other than Yoda. ‘For us, always a Jedi you will be,’ said the wise green one. (He also revealed that female Jedis like to refer to Lasseter as ‘Johnny the Force!’)

‘What a thrill it was to read in the paper that you were coming to take over Disney Animation,’ said Ratzenberger. ‘On the same day, in another part of the same newspaper there was another article, which said that Walt Disney had stopped spinning in his grave!’

Actress Bonnie Hunt also made the crowd roar with laughter. After praising Lasseter’s genius, creativity and attention to detail, she said, ‘The love and passion you damn nerds have for your work is amazing. You are such a big deal’John, you know how I feel about you. We slept together last night! And (the sex) was fully animated!’

Accepting the honor, an emotional Lasseter noted the importance of classic animation training and recalled the disappointment he felt when he first went to work at Disney after attending Cal Arts. ‘There was a feeling that they had reached a plateau and were doing the same thing over and over again,’ he said. ‘I felt there had to be something new.’

He then talked about how apprehensive people were at first about embracing computer technology and mentioned the pioneering work of fellow animators Chris Wedge, Glen Keane and tech guru Ed Catmull. As he has done many times in the past, Lasseter talked about the dangers of losing sight of the story and the characters in a technologically driven world. ‘What interests people is how you entertain them, the story and the characters’Computers don’t create the animation, people do. Hire traditional animators to use your tools. It’s all about combining art and technology. Art challenges technology and technology inspires art.’

‘Never forget the single fact that you are in the business of entertaining audiences and keeping them on the edge of their seats to see what happens next,’ he continued. ‘We love to hear audiences laugh and see them cry.’ Lasseter then addressed the visual effects pros in the room and reminded them of how horrible everyone feels when they work on an amazing visual effects scene for a project, and ‘then the film comes out and it sucks!’ He added, ‘I promise that will never happen at Pixar.’

The emotional peak of Lasseter’s speech came towards the end. He talked about how he was moved when he visited some friends, and their young children ran up to him and were excited to find out what he did for a living. He said, as tears welled in his eyes, ‘They came to me very excited and told me that their grandma was a cel painter on Snow White. I was so moved by that. They were so proud of that and that sense of pride is going to last’I want all the families who work at Pixar to have the same kind of feeling. Years from now, I want them to say my daddy worked on Toy Story or my mommy worked on The Incredibles.’

This year’s recipient of the Board of Directors Award was Jim Morris, a vfx visionary and a founding chairman of the Visual Effect Society. In his acceptance speech, he noted, ‘It all started with seeing Jason and the Argonauts. After seeing those skeletons fight each other, I was never the same.’ As PDI’s president and current VES chair Carl Rosendahl put it, ‘Jim’s management experience was vital in creating a strong organizational foundation for the VES.’

The visual effects and animation kudos of the evening didn’t offer any huge surprises. King Kong, War of the Worlds, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Kingdom of Heaven were some of the winners of the feature awards, while Battlestar Galactica, Rome, Walking with Monsters and Lost dominated the TV categories.

One thing the event organizers might consider in the future is the unbelievable length of the ceremony, which took place at the Hollywood Palladium last night. As actor Marin put it, ‘I love this show ‘ the first five hours just zip right by!’

Here’s a complete list of the winners:

King Kong

Joe Letteri, Eileen Moran, Christian Rivers, Eric Saindon

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Motion Picture

Kingdom of Heaven

Wes Sewell, Victoria Alonso, Tom Wood, Gary Brozenich

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Broadcast Miniseries, Movie or Special

Walking With Monsters

Tim Greenwood, Jo Nodwell, Neil Glasbey, Darren Byford

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Broadcast Series

Rome-Episode 1

Barrie Hemsley, James Madigan, Duncan Kinnaird, Joe Pavlo

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program

Lost-Exodus Part 2

Kevin Blank, Mitchell Ferm, Eric Chauvin, John Teska

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Commercial

Guinness noitulovE

William Bartlett, Scott Griffin, Andrew Boyd, Dan Seddon

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Music Video

Nine Inch Nails-Only

Eric Barba, Lisa Beroud, Jay Barton, Jim Gaczkowski

Best Single Visual Effect of the Year

War of the Worlds-Fleeing the Neighborhood

Dennis Muren, Pablo Helman, Sandra Scott, Marshall Krasser

Outstanding Real Time Visuals in a Video Game

Need For Speed Most Wanted

Habib Zargarpour, Luke Wasserman, Greg D’Esposito, Colin O’Connor

Outstanding Pre-Rendered Visuals in a Video Game

Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones-The Palace Balcony Cinematic

Jean-Jacques Tremblay, Raphael Lacoste, Anne Mai Le Bouyonnec

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project

Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon

Jack Geist, Sean Phillips, Johnathan Banta, Jerome Morin

Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Motion Picture

King Kong-Kong

Andy Serkis, Christian Rivers, Atsushi Sato, Guy Williams

Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Motion Picture

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit – Gromit

Loyd Price

Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Broadcast Program,

Commercial, or Music Video

Battlestar Galactica-Season 2, Episode 03 ‘Fragged”-Cylon Centurion

Andrew Karr, Louie Hinayo, Gary Hughes, Allan Henderson

Outstanding Created Environment in a Live Action Motion Picture

King Kong-New York Dawn Attack

Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White, Matt Aitken, Charles Tait

Outstanding Created Environment in a Live Action Broadcast Program,

Commercial, or Music Video

Into The West Mini-Series Movies I, II and III

Cedric Tomacruz, David Bailey, Valeri Pfahning, Siddhartha Jayakar

Outstanding Models and Miniatures in a Motion Picture

War of the Worlds

Ed Hirsh, Steve Gawley, Joshua Ong, Russell Paul

Outstanding Models and Miniatures in a Broadcast Program,

Commercial, or Music Video

Las Vegas Series-Episode 308 “Bold, Beautiful and Blue”

Michael Cook, Anthony Ocampo, Eugene Kim, Renaud Talon

Outstanding Compositing in a Motion Picture

War of the Worlds

Marshall Krasser, Michael Jamieson, Jeff Saltzman, Regan McGee

Outstanding Compositing in a Broadcast Program, Commercial, or Music Video

Empire

Stefano Trivelli, Michele Moen, Kelly Bumbarger, Sean Wilson

George M’li’s Award for Artistic Excellence

John Lasseter

Visual Effects Society Board of Directors Award

Jim Morris

Nominees were chosen by a panel of more than 60 visual effects professionals (all VES members) that viewed hundreds of entry submissions at the screening facilities of FotoKem in Burbank. Founded in 1997, the Visual Effects Society is a professional, honorary society, dedicated to advancing the arts, sciences and applications of visual effects and to improving the welfare of its members by providing professional enrichment and education, fostering community and promoting industry recognition. Eric Roth is the org’s current executive director. For more info, visit.www.vesawards.com.