One of Hollywood’s biggest events is Oscar night, and for those contributing digitally to films, another highly anticipated event is the Visual Effects Society’s annual awards. And the prelude to it all is the Golden Globes. As I write this editorial, the Golden Globe winners have already been revealed, though the winners of this year’s Oscars and VES awards have yet to be announced.
First, let’s take a look at the CG feature film categories. There is one movie that is topping all the lists: Disney/Pixar’s Ratatouille. At the Globes, this visual feast for the eyes took the top prize over DreamWorks’ Bee Movie and Gracie Films/20th Century Fox’s The Simpsons Movie. Ratatouille is also competing for Oscar gold along with the mockumentary Surf’s Up from Sony Pictures Imageworks and the black-and-white graphic novel Persepolis from Sony Pictures Classics. VES, meanwhile, is looking at Surf’s Up, Shrek the Third, Beowulf, and Ratatouille for its Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Motion Picture category and the same movies in its Outstanding Effects in an Animated Motion Picture category.
Most of those films were covered extensively in feature articles by Computer Graphics World, and without question, their technical accomplishments warranted every word. That is, except for The Simpsons Movie. On technical merit, that film does not stand up to the water innovations and documentary style of Surf’s Up or the new lighting techniques and more in Ratatouille. And Simpsons over Beowulf? Not a chance. In fact, Beowulf represents some of the biggest evolutions in CG character creation yet, and it didn’t make the cut.
In terms of the visual effects awards, there is no such accolade given at the Golden Globes, and none of the films nominated for Best Motion Picture–Musical or Comedy are VFX movies. So, for a better perspective, let’s look at the VES nominees first. In the running for an award in the Visual Effects Driven Motion Picture category are: I Am Legend, Transformers, The Golden Compass, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and Spider-Man 3—all good choices. In the related Best Single Visual Effect of the Year, Transformers, Pirates 3, 300, Surf’s Up, and Spider-Man 3 are competing, and deservedly so. Yet, the competitors look somewhat different under the Academy Awards flag. Among the seven short-listed films were The Bourne Ultimatum, Evan Almighty, The Golden Compass, I Am Legend, Pirates, Transformers, and 300, with Compass, Pirates, and Transformers making the finals.
Hey, wait a minute. There must be a mistake. Spider-Man 3 is missing from the short list, at the very least. When the movie debuted, it smashed box-office records. Okay, so popularity shouldn’t be a determining factor. Instead, consider the effects, which were some of the most dazzling and thrilling yet. (Apparently the Academy did not.)
You also might be scratching your head about Surf’s Up—an all-3D animated film—competing for VES’s Best Single Effect alongside live-action productions. But this year, CG broke a lot of new ground, so much so that two all-CG films made the Academy’s “long list” of 15 contenders in visual effects—an Academy first. They are Beowulf and Ratatouille, but neither made it through the next round in this category. No doubt this is just the beginning of a new trend as digital imagery continues to raise the bar in terms of animation, imagery, and digital effects.
Who will win the coveted awards? We’ll know very soon. But by examining (most of) the contenders, it’s easy to see that 2007 moviegoers were indeed the big winners.