Since 2008, the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects has gone to a Best Picture contender: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008), “Avatar” (2009), “Inception” (2010), “Hugo” (2011), “Life of Pi” (2012) and “Gravity” (2013). This year, that stat holds no water, since none of this year’s nominees are also up for the top prize.
The Visual Effects Society went for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” in a big way, and since 2002 at least one of their winners has gone on to repeat at the Oscars 10 times (among their categories, the VES recognizes achievements in Visual Effects-Driven Features, Supporting Visual Effects, and Animated Character in live-action features):
2002: “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (Visual Effects-Driven, Animated Character)
2003: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (Visual Effects-Driven, Animated Character)
2005: “King Kong” (Visual Effects-Driven, Animated Character)
2006: “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (Visual Effects-Driven, Animated Character)
2008: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Visual Effects-Driven)
2009: “Avatar” (Visual Effects-Driven, Animated Character)
2010: “Inception” (Visual Effects-Driven)
2011: “Hugo” (Supporting Visual-Effects)
2012: “Life of Pi” (Visual Effects-Driven, Animated Character)
2013: “Gravity” (Visual Effects-Driven)
Let’s take a closer look at the films nominated in this category:
Dan Deleeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill, Daniel Sudick, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier“
First-time nominee Dan Deleeuw joins Oscar veterans Russell Earl, a two-time nominee for “Transformers” (2007) and “Star Trek” (2009); Bryan Grill, a previous nominee for “Hereafter” (2010); and Daniel Sudick, a six-time nominee for “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” (2003), “War of the Worlds” (2005), “Iron Man” (2008), “Iron Man 2” (2010), “The Avengers” (2012), and “Iron Man 3” (2013), as part of the visual effects team of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” one of three Marvel superhero films in this category. Their work is certainly impressive, yet it’s being overshadowed by other contenders, leaving them in last place with odds of 100/1. In short, the nomination is their reward.
Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Erik Winquist, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
Visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri is an Oscar veteran, with four wins for “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (2002), “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003), “King Kong” (2005), and “Avatar” (2009), and four additional bids for “I, Robot” (2004), “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011), “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012), and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (2013) under his belt. He’s back this year for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” joined by previous nominees Dan Lemmon and Daniel Barrett (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) and first-timer Erik Winquist.
“Dawn” shows a significant leap forward from their work on “Rise,” with motion-capture creating strikingly realistic emotion within the faces of the apes. The film was a big winner at the Visual Effects Society, and currently holds second place with odds of 4/1; since “Rise” lost this category three years ago to “Hugo,” perhaps voters will feel inclined to give this one a kiss-and-make-up prize.
Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner, Paul Corbould, “Guardians of the Galaxy“
The second Marvel movie in the race is “Guardians of the Galaxy,” for which Stephane Ceretti, Jonathan Fawkner, and Paul Corbould received their first nominations and Nicolas Aithadi received his second, after “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I” (2010). “Guardians” is certainly a popular choice, with an impressive box-office haul and reviews to match, yet it’s ranked in third place with odds of 20/1. Voters may check this off as a consolation prize for the film (ditto Make-Up and Hairstyling), so watch out.
Paul J. Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter, Scott R. Fisher, “Interstellar“
Visual effects supervisors Paul J. Franklin and Andrew Lockley won Oscars for Christopher Nolan‘s “Inception” (2010), and Franklin was also nominated for his work on “The Dark Knight” (2008). Ian Hunter and Scott R. Fisher, the special effects coordinators, are nominated here for the first time. “Interstellar” showcases old school special effects – such as models and rear-projection – that voters will surely want to reward. Yet the film was overshadowed at the Visual Effects Society by “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” which could hurt its chances here. While it still holds the lead with odds of 2/5, it’s on shaky ground.
Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie, Cameron Waldbauer, “X-Men: Days of Future Past“
Richard Stammers received his first nomination for his work on “Prometheus” (2012), and he’s joined by first-timers Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie, and Cameron Waldbauer for “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” the third Marvel movie in the race. Like “Captain America,” their work here is impressive, yet will likely be overlooked in favor of other contenders. They’re in fourth place with odds of 100/1.
On a side note, one has to wonder: how long before every nominee in this category is a Marvel movie?
It doesn’t make a difference this year, but the Best Picture winner has also won Best Visual Effects just four times:
1994: “Forrest Gump”
2003: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”
This stat won’t apply to any of this year’s contenders, but it does help point out the sorts of films the Academy generally tends to favor in this category.