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Visual Effects Artists Take Center Stage

By Kristy Barkan, photography by Erin LK Reeve
13 Feb 2014

It's rare for visual effects artists to find themselves the focus of attention at a red carpet gala, despite the ever-increasing importance of effects in film and television. Unaccustomed to the chaos of flashing bulbs and chattering shutters, many of the nominees at the 12th Annual Visual Effects Society Awards on Wednesday, February 12, were understandably flustered as they approached the array of lights and cameras skirting the VES red carpet.

"Is this where I stand?" asked more than one bashful nominee.

Tim Webber (second from right) and his team won the VES Award for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects-Driven Feature Motion Picture ("Gravity")

After posing for a moment or two, most of the nominees quickly slipped away -- politely making room for others to have time in the spotlight. At one point, a crowd gathered outside the hotel lobby, peering at the commotion through the window. Gawkers were visibly perplexed, unsure what to make of the flurry of press surrounding faces they'd never seen on TV or in magazines.

To onlookers, the humble VES award nominees might not have appeared to be people of celebrity status -- but in fact, they number among the most exceptional creative and technical minds in the entertainment industry.

From left: comedian Patton Oswalt, actress Alyssa Sutherland, VFX artist John Dykstra and VES President Jeff Okun

VES Lifetime Achievement Award recipient John Dykstra seemed to take the attention in stride, however, jokingly shoving VES President Jeff Okun off the red carpet and commanding: "Get out of my shot!"

The awards show launched with host Patton Oswalt delivering his unique brand of self-deprecating humor. "I'm the guy you'll be digitally removing beads of sweat from as the evening wears on," he joked.

In addition to Oswalt, there were a number of other celebrities in attendance: Grammy-Award-winning musician Pharrell Williams served as a presenter, along with actors Sandra Bullock, Bruce Boxleitner, Michael Ealy and Alyssa Sutherland.

From left: actor Michael Ealy, director Alfonso Cuarón, musician Pharrell Williams and VES Executive Director Eric Roth

"This is a big deal," said Pharrell, taking the stage. He looked around at the crowd and shouted, "The VES awards!!"

Patton Oswalt seemed to be in agreement, expressing his admiration for visual effects artists: "I love watching what you guys do," he said. "It melts my brain."

The winners were announced and called up one by one, each receiving a gold statuette of Georges Méliès' iconic moon from the 1902 film "A Trip to the Moon." In all, 24 award categories were honored, including the under-recognized category of "supporting" effects. Director Alfonso Cuarón was presented with the VES Visionary Award; not surprisingly, his film "Gravity" took home six more VES awards. Other big winners were "Frozen," which garnered four awards, and "Game of Thrones," which snapped up three.

The Beverly Hilton gala was rife with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood; gowns sparkled, chandeliers glinted and bubbles streamed through flutes of champagne. More striking than the glamor, however, was the sense of satisfaction that filled the room. Visual effects artists were getting the credit they deserved.

A full list of all the VES Award winners is available at the end of this article.

The VES Awards gala at The Beverly Hilton

12th Annual Visual Effects Society Award winners:

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects-Driven Feature Motion Picture: "Gravity"

  • Tim Webber, Nikki Penny, Neil Corbould, Richard McBride

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature Motion Picture: "The Lone Ranger"

  • Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Shari Hanson, Kevin Martel

Outstanding Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture: "Frozen"

  • Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Peter Del Vecho, Lino Di Salvo

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program: "Game of Thrones: Valar Dohaeris"

  • Steve Kullback, Joe Bauer, Jörn Großhans, Sven Martin

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program: "Banshee: Pilot"

  • Armen Kevorkian, Mark Skowronski, Jeremy Jozwik, Ricardo Ramirez

Outstanding Real-Time Visuals in a Video Game: "Call of Duty: Ghosts"

  • Mark Rubin, Richard Kriegler, David Johnson, Alessandro Nardini

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Commercial: PETA: "98% Human"

  • Angus Kneale, Vince Baertsoen, Colin Blaney, Kyle Cody

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project: "Space Shuttle Atlantis"

  • Daren Ulmer, John Gross, Cedar Connor, Christian Bloch

Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture: "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug": Smaug

  • Eric Reynolds, David Clayton, Myriam Catrin, Guillaume Francois

Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature Motion Picture: "Frozen": Bringing the Snow Queen to Life

  • Alexander Alvarado, Joy Johnson, Chad Stubblefield, Wayne Unten

Outstanding Animated Character in a Commercial or Broadcast Program: PETA: "98% Human"

  • Vince Baertsoen, Alex Allain, Henning Koczy

Outstanding Created Environment in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture: "Gravity": Exterior

  • Paul Beilby, Kyle MCculloch, Stuart Penn, Ian Comley

Outstanding Created Environment in an Animated Feature Motion Picture: "Frozen": Elsa's Ice Palace

  • Virgilio John Aquino, Alessandro Jacomini, Lance Summers, David Womersley

Outstanding Created Environment in a Commercial or Broadcast Program: "Game of Thrones": The Climb

  • Patrick Zentis, Mayur Patel, Nitin Singh, Tim Alexander

Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture: "Gravity"

  • Tim Webber, Emmanuel Lubezki, Richard McBride, Dale Newton

Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Live Action Commercial or Broadcast Program: "The Crew"

  • Dominique Boidin, Rémi Kozyra, Léon Bérelle, Maxime Luère

Outstanding Models in a Feature Motion Picture: "Gravity": ISS Exterior

  • Ben Lambert, Paul Beilby, Chris Lawrence, Andy Nicholson

Outstanding FX and Simulation Animation in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture: "Gravity": Parachute and ISS Destruction

  • Alexis Wajsbrot, Sylvain Degrotte, Horacio Mendoza, Juan-Luis Sanchez

Outstanding FX and Simulation Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture: "Frozen": Elsa's Blizzard

  • Eric W. Araujo, Marc Bryant, Dong Joo Byun, Tim Molinder

Outstanding FX and Simulation Animation in a Commercial or Broadcast Program: PETA: "98% Human"

  • Vince Baertsoen, Jimmy Gass, Dave Barosin

Outstanding Compositing in a Feature Motion Picture: "Gravity"

  • Mark Bakowski, Anthony Smith, Theodor Groeneboom, Adrian Metzelaar

Outstanding Compositing in a Broadcast Program: "Game of Thrones": The Climb

  • Kirk Brillon, Steve Gordon, Geoff Sayer, Winston Lee

Outstanding Compositing in a Commercial: "Call of Duty: Epic Night Out"

  • Chris Knight, Daniel Thuresson, Nick Tayler, Dag Ivarsory

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project: "Rugbybugs"

  • Matthias Baeuerle, Carl Schroeter, Martin Lapp, Emanuel Fuchs