The Weird Case of The Visual Effects Award at This Year’s Oscars.

Mad-Max-StormAs we already know, the brilliant movie Ex Machina won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects at the 88th Academy Awards in direct competition with Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I (and probably most of the world) was so shocked by this, that I couldn’t resist writing this rant.


First of all, know that I am working in a visual effects studio in Europe. We’ve been working on sequels like Scorpion King, Dungeons and Dragons, the new reboot of Tremors and many more.


I was pretty confident that this year the VFX Oscar will go to either Mad Max or The Force Awakens. To my surprise Ex Machina grabbed the award in front of the confused crowd. Even the winners themselves (Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett) seemed pretty shocked.


Now don’t get me wrong. I love Ex Machina. It’s probably in my top 5 for best movies of 2015. And while the VFX of the movie looked great, and surely not so easy to make, they don’t even fall in the same category as what the teams behind Mad Max and The Force Awakens have done.


JJ & Rey


Let’s have a look at the Academy’s own criteria on choosing the winner in this category:


  • consideration of the contribution the visual effects make to the overall production and
  • the artistry, skill and fidelity with which the visual illusions are achieved.


Giving the VFX award to a movie that takes place in 1 house with 3 people in it, sounds like a complete joke. Keep in mind that the term Visual Effects includes not only the CGI work, but also the Special Effects (practical effects, animatronic and puppet creatures, pyrotechnics and stunts, and so on). Ex Machina has only one type of VFX done throughout the whole movie – painting out parts of Alicia Vikander’s body and composing some CG elements over her body. Actually this type of effect was also done in Mad Max (Charlize Theron’s mechanical hand) + thousands more special and CG effects. You can get a clear idea from the following video:





Again, I am not trying to belittle the job that the VFX team did on Ex Machina. Double Negative did an amazing job on a movie that costs only $15 million. But it’s nowhere near the exceptional job the crews behind Mad Max and The Force Awakens did. I know several guys who worked on the Mad Max movie, and believe me they really made miracles on set, with real life explosions and stunts, which are crucial part from the VFX. And I am not even going to start talking about the effects in TFA. We covered them very thoroughly before.


We have to remember that The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) is a professional honorary organization with a voting membership of 5,783 as of 2012. Academy membership is divided into different branches, with each representing a different discipline in film production. Their votes determine who wins. In a recent survey it was revealed that the AVERAGE age of the Oscar voters is 63! I will leave this number with no comment, but obviously these guys have a weird opinion when it comes to VFX.





During the years I’ve learned not to take seriously the Academy’s awards for technical achievements. There were many illogical decisions in the past, but this year it was just too much. Most of the voters in the Academy are actors and I think it would be best if they leave the technical achievement awards to the people who know their stuff. And these people are:


The Visual Effects Society (VES) – the entertainment industry’s only organization representing the full breadth of visual effects practitioners including artists, animators, technologists, model makers, educators, studio leaders, supervisors, PR/marketing specialists and producers in all areas of entertainment from film, television and commercials to music videos and games. Consisting of a diverse group of more than 2,400 members in 20 countries. (via Wiki)

This year they awarded TFA for best Visual Effects (HERE). Not saying that they should have won the Oscar this year. Mad Max was equally brilliant in this category.





It’s curious that most of the time the Oscars defer from the VES awards, which never made sense to me. But after all that’s their decision. And I really doubt there is anyone who takes the VFX Oscars seriously. They proved during the years that they don’t make any sense at all. Too bad that the tremendous job done by the crews behind Mad Max and The Force Awakens will remain unrecognized. At least by the Academy. My personal opinion is that the Oscars should drop the awards for technical achievements. As I said most of the members are actors and filmmakers that don’t have the slightest idea about those.


Again, no disrespect to Ex Machina. Congrats for the Oscar. By the way the movie is the least expensive one to be nominated in the category since Alien (1979). That’s an impressive efficiency.


Daisy Ridley


At least it was nice to see the tribute to John Williams made at the awards, and Daisy Ridley looking stunning as always. 🙂





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Founder of SWNN, MNN and The Cantina forums.

Born on April 24, 1980.

Val Trichkov (Viral Hide)

Founder of SWNN, MNN and The Cantina forums.Born on April 24, 1980.

83 thoughts on “The Weird Case of The Visual Effects Award at This Year’s Oscars.

  • February 29, 2016 at 6:55 pm

    Much as I liked the visuals in TFA Mad Max should of come away with the Oscar. It is IMO a visual master piece.

    • February 29, 2016 at 7:28 pm

      Glad you liked it, for me mad max was okay but not worthy of 6 oscars.
      Personally I don’t care much for these awards ceremonies, they are
      all out of touch with what the people on the street really like.

      • February 29, 2016 at 7:37 pm

        I think Mad Max deserved everything it earned, with the exception of Best Sound Editing. Most of the sounds from Mad Max are sounds that we regularly encounter in our everyday lives. When is the last time you walked down the street and heard something that sounded like a TIE Fighter, a Lightsaber or a Blaster? Granted, most of these effects are not new, but when you’re creating sounds that don’t exist naturally within our daily lives, how do you not win an Oscar for that?

        • February 29, 2016 at 9:24 pm

          And all sounds in TFA are just copy paste from previous Star Wars movies. Nothing new.

          TFA was unoriginal movie. It did not deserved any Oscar.
          It did not deserved nominations for the Oscar for that matter.

          • February 29, 2016 at 9:51 pm

            All your posts are copy and paste from previous posts.

          • March 1, 2016 at 1:06 am

            Truer words have never been spoken.

          • February 29, 2016 at 9:51 pm

            You are out of your mind. I’ll just give you the first example off the top of my head that isn’t just “copy and paste,” the Rathtars. That is in no way a copy and paste sound.

            As for it being an “unoriginal” movie, you’re wrong in almost every way. TFA mirrors ANH, just like certain elements of Phantom Menace emulate ANH. The story of the characters and the overall plot are completely different from one another, and are completely original.

            Don’t be that guy on a Star Wars site that bashes a beloved Star Wars film. You won’t win.

          • February 29, 2016 at 10:13 pm

            TFA is unoriginal rip-off nothing more, nothing less.

          • March 1, 2016 at 12:17 am


            And you can deny people their opinion, but it doesn’t make yours any more right.

          • March 2, 2016 at 6:55 am

            Truth is a truth?

            Which truth? Your truth? My truth? His truth? Her truth?

            And I heard denail is a river in Egypt?

            Or did you mean the Nile?

      • February 29, 2016 at 9:23 pm

        6 Oscars!! Really didn’t know that and its quite a surprise. I totally agree with you that award ceremonies are losing touch with the public, have been for years.

    • February 29, 2016 at 7:41 pm

      The fact that Mad Max won both “sound” awards…simply ridiculous.

  • February 29, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    I appreciate the article. A wise man always question things.

  • February 29, 2016 at 7:23 pm

    Thank goodness these award ceremonies are at an end. Maybe we can start to focus on Rogue One!

    • March 1, 2016 at 12:17 am

      Better Rogue One than Han Solo.

  • February 29, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    How about Apple accidently released the whole movie on iTunes this morning then 10 minutes later they took it down. Thank God I snagged it! I’m uploading to torrent as we speak.

    • February 29, 2016 at 7:40 pm

      What’s that got to do with this article?

    • March 1, 2016 at 1:05 am

      You are a true saint.

  • February 29, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    Think I need to watch Ex Machina again (have only seen it once), but I do recall the CGI was very seamless. It blended extremely well with the rest of the set. Perhaps that was the main reason it won the award. It was more subtle and less in your face.

  • February 29, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    Perhaps because they spent so much time trying to convince everybody that it was done on all real sets with all practical effects that the voters believed there wasn’t much VFX

    • March 1, 2016 at 1:04 am

      That would be hilarious.

      “What VFX? Don’t you know that this movie is 100% practical? Filming in space cost a fortune….”

  • February 29, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    You’re just now realizing the Oscars get things wrong? I mean… there is a reason a lot of us feel it’s a joke.

    I love Ex-Machina too… great great move. It did not deserve the VFX award.

  • February 29, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    I can tell you why TFA didn’t win the Oscar for Visual Effects (at least
    what my personal prediction – one based on rational supposition based
    on observational evidence – as to why it didn’t win it):

    the movie came out, people involved in the making of it kept raving on
    and on about practical effects; hell, every other interview with someone
    involved, the practical effects talk came about. Now, after TFA was
    released, we come to see that based on all those VFX videos released,
    there were more digital shots and CGI than what was thought there would
    be. Yes, I’m aware that there was a “perfect marriage” of practical and
    VFX and the CGI look realistic and that it wasn’t much noticeable – and
    for the most part TFA looked nice – but that’s not the point of this
    post (also, yes, I’m aware that there wasn’t anyone saying that there
    wouldn’t be any VFX/CGI/digital effects at all in TFA, but again, that’s
    not the point here. And no, don’t turn this into a discussion on
    comparing TFA’s VFX with other SW movies or any other effects-heavy
    movie out there, that’s also not the point here and I’m not getting into
    an argument with anyone on that here). My argument is that it was
    almost deceptive on how this “practical effects” marketing was being
    done before the movie’s release. We come to find out that it has quite a
    bit of non-practical effects (which I have no problems with) after the
    release and I believe that the Academy most likely saw through this and
    probably felt that yeah, it was a bit deceptive as to how those involved
    in the movie were selling it as where they could’ve been more upfront
    on the moviemaking process and talk about all the types of effects in a
    manner in which their effects conversation was more balanced (if those
    involved wanted to talk effects when the subject of TFA came about).
    Being that the Academy probably doesn’t take too kindly to being
    deceived (or at least, having the perception that they were deceived),
    they decided to give this award to another movie that was more upfront
    on its process and didn’t up-play nor downplay any movie-making
    technique they used.(especially when it came to marketing and promoting
    the movie from a particular angle)

    Like I stated earlier, I have
    no problem with the VFX in TFA, from the type to the amount to the
    placement; I’m ok with it all and all the effects used were great,
    practical or not. What I do have a problem with is the way that those
    involved would talk up TFA from this “practical effects” angle as a way
    to market/promote the movie when after all, there are quite a bit of
    non-practical effects used which was – besides knowing that Snoke and
    Max were going to be mo-cap characters – significantly downplayed before
    the movie came out (and it wasn’t until the movie was released,
    especially when the awards circuit started happening, when we started
    seeing videos on TFA’s VFX). In my opinion, in regards to this
    particular award (and perhaps some of the other Oscars that TFA was
    nominated for such as editing (maybe even for other non-Oscar awards)),
    the filmmakers did themselves no favors and perhaps did themselves in
    the moment that they decided to talk up the practical effects aspect in
    the manner in which they did before TFA’s release for the purposes of
    promoting it to the fans and to the general public (and severely
    downplay the other effects utilized when talking TFA in conversations
    where the discussion of TFA came about).

    All this being said,
    TFA not winning this Oscar (or any of the other ones in general) doesn’t
    matter to me as far as what my opinions on TFA are nor does it do
    anything to take away from me enjoying the movie. But still, my point
    remains as to what I think is the reason why TFA did not come out a
    winner last night, particularly in this category. Hopefully now, Lucasfilm learned their lesson and will make sure that when it comes to their people involved in the making of Ep. VIII (from actors, crew, members, director, etc.), they will make sure that they don’t attempt to market and promote Ep. VIII (and IX) with this effects angle like it was done with TFA as not only does it look deceitful to significanly downplay one or more effects aspects over another, it’ll further disenfranchise and alienate a good portion of the SW fanbase.

    • February 29, 2016 at 8:31 pm

      could someone sum it up?

      • February 29, 2016 at 9:48 pm

        No, read the whole damn thing you lazy fark.

        • February 29, 2016 at 10:25 pm

          I don’t have time to waste

          • February 29, 2016 at 10:51 pm

            Obviously you do if you’re on this site perusing 😉

          • February 29, 2016 at 11:13 pm

            uhm… yeah but… I don’t have the patience to read through that

      • March 1, 2016 at 1:00 am

        The Academy felt deceived by the “practical effects” talk and gave the award to Ex Machina because they were more honest about their FX.

        • March 1, 2016 at 4:26 pm

          oh. Thanks.

  • February 29, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    I’m happy with the following wins of this year: Revenant, Mad Max and Foreign language.
    Vfx should have been won by either mad max or TFA, Ex machina has good vfx, but those two films had vfx of the same quality, just in more complex situations.

    • February 29, 2016 at 9:07 pm

      The easiest setting can be the most difficult one. Both The Force Awakens and MadMax are movies with dozens of FX per shot. It’s impossible to stop by and analize the FX while watching it. Ex-Machina had mainly one visual FX based on motion capture, rotoscopy and composition. Almost two hours of low-budget creation Ava felt more real than five minutes of Snoke, hidden behind the interferences of an hologram.

    • February 29, 2016 at 9:32 pm

      TFA VFX are average at best.
      TFA did not deserved nominations.
      Even Jurassic World, Ant-Man and Avengers had better VFX than TFA and they did not get nomination.

      EX-Machina has excellent VFX. I’am glad for the Oscar they won.

      • February 29, 2016 at 10:26 pm

        Jurassic World? Seriously? that looked fake. Totally vident CG

      • March 1, 2016 at 12:57 am

        We heard you the last 3 times.

  • February 29, 2016 at 8:50 pm

    Hey Viral!
    Fully respect your opinion as the professional you are, but personally I am happy ex-M won the award. I work on FX as well thpugh your CV is much more impressive than mine. That said, this is just my humble opnion.

    From everything you have said, there’s only one statement that I’m not agree with: saying that a movie that takes places inside a house winning the fx award is a joke. For me it’s actually what makes this movie amazing. The FX are part of the high concept of this film and are key to explain the conflict. In that sense, the artistry of Ex-M FX is by far the winner among the candidates.

    In the terrain of the contribution, it’s true that both MadMax and VII have been using so much available techniques, but in terms of innovation they just “updated” certain features. Talking concretely about CG, VII was particularly average.

    I had a good time with both MadMax and VII, but nostalgy did the job. Ex-Machina felt visually new, felt scary, REAL from beginning to end, and marked me in a way that the other two did not.

    • February 29, 2016 at 9:01 pm

      Totally agree, I think they awarded the art behing the VFX.

    • March 1, 2016 at 12:15 am

      Is you’re CV online anywhere? I’m curious.

      • March 1, 2016 at 12:53 am

        Oh yes! But I’m not sharing it when I play the fanboy 😉 Just wanted to imply that I have some knowledge about it yet not as much as Viral may have.

        • March 1, 2016 at 9:38 am

          Fair enough. It does sort of explain one of the avenues he probably gets his information from. Just glad this place hasn’t sold out to Disney like TFN which was to the PT what this one is for the ST.

          • March 1, 2016 at 3:55 pm

            TFN was the daily dose! it’s not anymore…

          • March 2, 2016 at 5:45 am

            Sad. I don’t know where I’d get my information now if not for this one since all the others aren’t even close.

  • February 29, 2016 at 9:00 pm

    About the article:

    Well, I guess money and a big crew it is not all.
    Oscars don´t award big amounts of money spended in VFX or advertising, usually audience rewards that better.
    I really liked Ex-Machina, I liked the “art” more than Mad Max and probably more than TFA, that could be called production design, I don´t know, but may be academics have assessed that. Not just the difficulty and the tons of hours, US$… on the effects, but may be also this “art” or “production design” and how it is related to VFX.
    The same way they award an actor/actress work and not their salary.
    Mad Max also got many Technical Awards (all of them), so I think they cannot complaint about VFX.
    May be TFA could complaint about not getting any Award, but I think they don´t care/need any at all.
    And finally the VFX Oscar will give Ex-Machina a second life, so in this case the Award will find a better use, isnt it?

    The total budget of Ex-Machina is less than some Hollywood Stars starting salary (before % on benefits), so I am really happy movies like it are possible and win awards. And as many as they can.
    I admire Michael Jordan, but in 90´s he alone was winning per year more salary than all Indonesian workers together producing all Nikes shoes. That is insane.

  • February 29, 2016 at 9:17 pm

    TFA has bad VFX.

    • February 29, 2016 at 9:31 pm

      I don’t see why the unoriginality of the plot affects the quality of the VFX, sound or soundtrack in which chategories TFA was nominated.

      • February 29, 2016 at 9:35 pm

        Because everything in TFA is unoriginal and rip-off of previous Star Wars movies.

        All sounds are just copy paste from previous Star Wars movies.
        Art design is also copy paste.

        The quality of VFX is average at best ( Snoke and Rathars look like CGI from nineties ). Strange that TFA even got nomination.

        • February 29, 2016 at 9:49 pm

          Lora is on crack.

        • March 1, 2016 at 12:02 am

          The Rathars! I forgot about that. Yes, fortunately the film was GREAT, but it’s true that TFA’s CGI was bad.

        • March 1, 2016 at 12:17 am

          Empire’s sound effects ripped off A New Hope’s.

        • March 1, 2016 at 12:55 am

          Can you speak English please? And maybe stop trolling, too.

        • March 2, 2016 at 6:50 am

          Yeap. It was all copy paste and the CGI was from the 90’s.

          And it still made over 2 billion dollars.

          Funny that, because usually a film that fails in all these categories you’re discussing, like say the new Fantastic Four reboot, actually doesn’t gross any money.

          Strange. Isn’t it?

    • February 29, 2016 at 10:00 pm

      So another iteration of Shelley’s Frankenstein using visual concepts from Spielberg’s A.I. is original? Got it.

      • February 29, 2016 at 10:12 pm

        1000 times more original than TFA.

        • March 1, 2016 at 12:16 am

          To say they were “bad” is just objectionably incorrect.

          And “original” really has no bearing on how good they were.

          You kids play nice, now.

          • March 1, 2016 at 1:42 am

            Rathars and Snoke look like crap created by amateurs.

          • March 2, 2016 at 10:37 pm

            Says an amateur.

        • March 1, 2016 at 1:13 am

          For someone who preaches originality, your comments are surprisingly redundant.

        • March 2, 2016 at 6:29 am

          OVER 9000!!!!!!

    • March 1, 2016 at 12:54 am

      Star Wars – 93% on RT.
      Ex Machina – 92% on RT

      That is all.

      • March 1, 2016 at 1:41 am

        RT is crap.

        Who cares for them.

        EX-Machina is 1000 time better movie. EX-Machina deserved more Oscars.

        • March 1, 2016 at 1:43 am

          Yeah, we heard you the last 12 times. Maybe you should stop pretending that your opinion is fact and stop trolling so much.

  • February 29, 2016 at 10:16 pm

    I wonder if Mad Max and Star Wars split the vote. I was happy Ex Machina won though… it should have be nominated for more awards.

  • February 29, 2016 at 11:16 pm

    I think Ex Machina deserved this award. Its effects were subtle and convincing, and I appreciate that. I’m fairly confident that Mad Max and Star Wars split the “blockbuster” vote, if that makes any sense, allowing Ex Machina to sneak in.

  • February 29, 2016 at 11:43 pm

    The Martian should have got it in my opinion. All of the nominated movies were great, but The Martian sold me most on the realism of its effects.

  • February 29, 2016 at 11:49 pm

    This is a good point. But I think Ex Machina won because that second criteria. Ex Machina’s visual effects were subtle and organic, they never felt out of place. It made it seem as if there were no effects and that alicia vikander actually was a robot.
    TFA’s vfx were very complex, but you could always tell what was real and what wasn’t, which I why I personally wouldn’t have given it the award. Also I might be alone in this opinion, but I think that some of the practical effects made the movie look rather dated.
    I think Mad Max was the the only one that maybe should’ve won the award instead, because it almost always felt real and believable, and was also very gorgeous.

  • March 1, 2016 at 12:12 am

    There really wasn’t anything particular memorable or original in TFA effects-wise though that we’ll be talking about in a few years the way that we do with the Battle Of Yavin/Hoth/Endor that were cinematic game changers. No real chances were taken at all, Even the PT didn’t play it safe regardless of the results. Virtually every vehicle/planet/weapon was a rehash and as said a billion times…”practical effects”.

    • March 2, 2016 at 6:37 am

      I don’t think the film deserved an Academy Award. But I disagree with you on memorable effects scenes.

      The opening where the transports touch down on Jakku and dislodge their Stormtrooper squads was very well done, the mix of CGI and the large and very real set where the short battle took place looked amazing.

      I was sitting at the edge of my seat when Poe and Finn escaped the Finalizer in a TIE Fighter. Also an excellent and memorable sequence.

      The Falcon being chased across Jakku and through the bowels of an upside down Super Star Destroyer. I know nothing will ever impress you because you’re still waiting for us all to decide we don’t like it so you can say you were first, but this sequence was also amaze balls.

      The X-Wings skimming across the water at Takodana before unleashing hell on the First Order positions was righteous, especially paired with Williams’s new stately Resistance march.

      The final battle at Starkiller felt similar to other set pieces I’ve seen in film over the last decade or so, but it still looked good.

  • March 1, 2016 at 12:13 am

    You could say without the VFX in Ex Machina, the entire movie doesn’t work. None of the drama would work. Also, it’s a matter of opinion, so there is no right or wrong answer.

  • March 1, 2016 at 12:50 am

    Clearly, this is important.

    • March 1, 2016 at 12:52 am

      Exactly. Why else would you have taken the time to comment?

  • March 1, 2016 at 1:03 am

    Interesting read. I’m reminded of the Forest Gump over The Mask controversy from back in the day…

  • March 1, 2016 at 1:07 am

    I agree with this post. the amount of time and effort that went into the effects of Mad Max and TFA seems to be greater than that of Ex Machina. Maybe the Oscars would get more viewership by not snubbing popular and deserving films.

    • March 1, 2016 at 4:27 am

      Yeah, and Mad Max was literally hell to make, like, on work-difficulty alone, Mad Max wins everything.

  • March 1, 2016 at 3:23 am

    I completely agree. It is what it is though.

  • March 1, 2016 at 4:27 am

    Well now that I read this I find myself agreeing. They missed out on an opportunity to send the message that practical effects matter.

  • March 1, 2016 at 6:02 am

    I kind of understand the Academy. The effects in TFA were great but really there was nothing new. Great puppetry and great green screen and sets but nothing much better than things from 5 or 10 years earlier and similar to every other scifi movie.
    Now mad max was a phenomenal visual spectacle but my guess is there was a bit of overload after voting for it for so many other technical awards.

    The Ex-machina effect was beautiful and subtle and novel. The whole movie had a real feel to it that was probably due as much to the director and editors as the vfx guys. But it was new and when someone does something that was so integral to the backbone of the story, it’s impressive. This was a half effect main character and all for so cheap.

  • March 1, 2016 at 6:11 am

    I am pretty sure it mostly had to do with breasts.

  • March 1, 2016 at 9:44 am

    So go the Oscars. The films that stand the test of time are often snubbed or ignored, and many classic films have lost awards like Best Picture to films that nobody today has even heard of!

    But I think the Oscars are also often used in order to recognize innovation and up-and-comers who offer something surlrising or unexpected in their categories, and in that sense, I can understand some of their decisions.

  • March 1, 2016 at 11:11 am

    no space tentacle monsters in Ex Machina probably helps 😛

    • March 1, 2016 at 8:19 pm

      Very true

  • March 1, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    TFA didn’t win because there was nothing new in there, seen it all before, well done yes, but nothing fresh.

  • March 1, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    I totally agree.

  • March 2, 2016 at 3:56 am

    look, had any out of those three won (Ex Machina, TFA or Mad Max) i would have been okay with it. To me, The Force Awakens simply built on previous designs and work from the OT and the prequels too. not that i should think that being a sequel should work against a film at the oscars,

    but considering its budget and its creative work (especially considering it isnt based on the art design or affects of a previous film in the franchise), i have to issue with E-M winning this catagory.

    (Not that this should factor in, but i think its rather good for an awesome below-the-line sci-fi film like Ex-Machina to win an award and get exposure on this level. The Force Awakens doesn’t need it)

Comments are closed.