VES Awards Spoils Go to King

Having dominated last year’s first annual Visual Effects Society (VES) Awards, the Lord of the Rings crew made a triumphant return last night at the Hollywood Palladium. The Return of the King snagged four awards including the last award of the night for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects-Driven Motion Picture (Jim Rygiel, Dean Wright, Joe Letteri and Randall William Cook). The night, however, belonged to George Lucas, who was honored with the society’s first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award.

"Trailblazer," "pioneer" and "brazen gambler" were a few of the words filmmaker James Cameron (The Terminator, Terminator 2, Aliens, Titanic) used to describe the man of the hour. "We are all in awe of George Lucas and what he’s accomplished." He commented on the sense of wonder he felt as a child watching Ray Harryhausen’s fantastic creatures and the incredible vistas of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey "But as an adult, the jaw-dropping sense of awe was missing until Star Wars came along."

Upon accepting the award, Lucas quipped, "Finally, an award for Howard the Duck." Getting serious, he continued, "It’s a wonderful feeling to be recognized by your peers and if have peers, this room is full of them. I really appreciate this. It means a lot coming from you guys."

Lucas told Animation Magazine Online that a fully digital animated feature is still a way off for Lucas Animation, the newly established branch of LucasFilm Ltd. "We’re just concentrating on doing digital effects right now, but the animation division is formed and we have a lot of digital animators in house."

The filmmaker hinted that his involvement in any CG blockbusters would be fairly limited, reiterating comments he’s made before about a desire to return to smaller, more character-driven films like Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rain People, which he assoc. produced in 1969. "I want to spend my retirement making films that are more esoteric than what I did in the past."

Among the other accolades bestowed upon Return of the King was Outstanding Models and Miniatures in a Motion Picture (Richard Taylor, Paul Van Ommen and Eric Saindon of Weta Workshop). Taylor, looking like he just came from the Shire in his long, green Hobbit-esque jacket embroidered with Elvish inscriptions, accepted the award. He pointed out a marked difference in the various techniques employed to create the film, saying, "Where digital effects would move ahead in huge bounds, what our work in Weta Workshop involves is drawing backwards from the history of film effects." Taylor also noted that Peter Jackson is very much a traditionalist who is also excited about what digital innovation can make possible. Outgoing VES president Tom Atkin made remarks to the effect that this seamless combination of digital and practical effects has been key in making the Rings trilogy a stand out among the recent onslaught of effects-driven films.

King also took Outstanding Character Animation in a Live Action Motion Picture (Steven Hornby, Andy Serkis, Matthias Menez and Greg Butler) and garnered an Outstanding Performance by a Male or Female Actor in an Effects Film win for Sean Astin, who was not present at the ceremony.

The Matrix Reloaded, which was shut out of the Oscar race, took home a pair of trophies. Kim Libreri, George Borshukov, Paul Ryan and John Gaeta were recognized for the U-Cap Facial Photography system they engineered to capture actor’s performances and combine them with digital effects for the "Burly Brawl" sequence. Upon accepting the award, Borshukov remarked, "I thought Matrix wasn’t supposed to win anything, but here we are." He also commented that he thought the U-Cap system wasn’t used to its full potential in the finished sequence, explaining, "The technology went a lot further than what was shown in the film. We didn’t have enough close-ups to really showcase [it]." Reloaded also won Best Single Visual Effect of the Year in any Medium for the "Trailer Top Crash" shot (John Geata, Dan Glass, Adrian DeWet, Greg Juby).

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl collected a tidy bounty with Outstanding Special Effects in Service to Visual Effects in a Motion Picutre (Geoff Heron, Robert Clot, Jason Brackett and John McLeod) for exploding a 1/4 scale ship, and Outstanding Matte Painting in a Motion Picture (Yanick Dusseault, Susumu Yukuhiro and Jonathan Harb) for a shot involving a long pull-back from an island that required complex match-moving using Lightwave to combine the digital elements with the live-action plate.

Outstanding Character Animation in an Animated Motion Picture went to Finding Nemo for Dave DeVan’s and Gini Santos’ work on the "Inside the Whale" sequence. Santos comented on how the two animators really worked off each other to create the performances. "With Dory we could really go crazy with larger expressions whereas Marlin required more of a balance. We sort of played against type with Dave being the zany character and me being the straight man."

On the television side, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica and Smallville all made out nicely. Buffy was honored with Outstanding Visual Effects in a Television Series for its series finale (Loni Peristere, Patti Gannon, Ronald Thornton and Chris Zapara.) Regarding the episode, Zapara said, "[Series creator] Joss Whedon saw The Two Towers and wanted the Battle of Helms Deep on a TV budget." Where the Weta team had the Massive system to create hordes of soldiers, the folks at Zoic Studios relied on Lightwave to depict the army of thousands of vampires that besieged the show’s heroes.

The Sci Fi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica redo was honored with Outstanding Visual Effects in a Television Miniseries, Movie or Special (Gary Hutzel, Kristen L. Branan, Emile E. Smith and Lee Stringer), while Smallville picked up a pair for Outstanding Compositing in a Televised Program, Music Video or Commercial for the episode "Accelerate" (Eli Jarra, Ivan DeWolf and Brian Harding) and Outstanding Matte Paintings for the "Insurgence" episode (Eli Jarra, Joseph Brattensani, Brian Bell.)

For a full list of 2003 VES Awards winners, visit www.vesawards.com.