Issue: Volume: 25 Issue: 5 (May 2002)

A Very Good Year

It was a good year for computer graphics animators and visual effects artists at the 2002 Academy Awards. (It was also a good year for Computer Graphics World with respect to covering the animations and visual effect that were recognized by the Academy.) And it was a good year for the Academy, itself, at least in the eyes of artists and animators, who, on the whole felt the winners were well chosen, which has not always been the case in past years.

The winner of this year's Oscar for visual effects, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring from Weta Digital, encompassed perhaps the widest range of effects ever filmed (December 2001, pg. 18). The other nominees were Pearl Harbor from Industrial Light & Magic, which blended spectacular digital explosions, water, ships, and planes with live-action footage in perhaps the most seam less way yet (June 2001 cover story), and AI: Artificial Intelligence, also from ILM, which combined CG and practical effects to build some of the most creative futuristic cities and characters to date (July 2001, pg. 43).

The process for choosing the winner in the technology-based visual effects category has not been without controversy. In fact, last year when the film Gla d iator beat out the other nominees for best effects, The Perfect Storm and Hollow Man, many in the effects community complained that the Academy was swept up by the popularity of Gladiator and favored its visual effects more on that basis than on technical merit.

The criticism focuses on the voting process, which works as follows. First, a committee from the visual effects branch of the Academy chooses seven films from the hundreds with visual effects released during the year. Next, the full membership of the visual effects branch, a group of hundreds with credentials in the field, selects three nominees. Then, the winner is chosen by the entire Academy, comprising thousands of members from all branches, including actors, directors, producers, and others.

Is it fair that visual effects are judged by a group with no expertise in the technology used to create them? Maybe so. Should the process be changed? No. In the first place, the effects community decides each nomination, which is an achievement virtually on a par with receiving an Oscar, given the sophistication of this year's nominees. Second, and perhaps more important, leaving the final voting to all Academy members allows the effects to be judged according to their ultimate purpose, which is to support the story without distracting viewers from it.

Granted, this was such a good year for visual effects that problems with the Oscar voting process were buried and criticisms were silenced. The good news is that questions about changing the process may have become moot, as next year's selections promise to be even better.