The Weird Case of The Visual Effects Award at This Year’s Oscars.
As 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.
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.
At least it was nice to see the tribute to John Williams made at the awards, and Daisy Ridley looking stunning as always. 🙂