‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ wins Best Visual Effects Oscar, just like original did 13 years ago

As Gold Derby predicted, “Avatar: The Way of Water” won the Best Visual Effects Oscar on March 12 over co-nominees “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “The Batman,” “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Top Gun: Maverick.” James Cameron‘s highly anticipated sequel was heavily favorited to claim this trophy on Sunday night, especially considering the original “Avatar” (2009) also won the visual effects category 13 years ago. “The Way of Water” also earned Oscar bids this year in Best Picture, Best Sound and Best Production Design.

Accepting the trophies for “Avatar: The Way of Water” were Joe Letteri, Richard Baneham, Eric Saindon and Daniel Barrett. Letteri previously won four Oscars 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), while Baneham had a single statue on his mantel for “Avatar” (2009). Today’s Oscars win marks the first Academy Awards for Saindon and Barrett.

The original “Avatar” won three Oscars — Best Cinematography, Best Production Design and Best Visual Effects — at the 2010 ceremony. Many awards pundits thought it would also claim top prizes for Best Picture and Best Director that year, but it lost out to “The Hurt Locker” and its helmer Kathryn Bigelow, who coincidentally was James Cameron’s ex-wife.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” takes place 16 years after the events of the first film and finds our hero, human-turned-Na’vi Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), fully living with the jungle-based Omatikaya clan of Pandora. After a new group of humans arrives to colonize the planet, Jake takes his family on the run and they try to make a new home with the water-based Metkayina clan. The inclusion of the underworld world allowed the visual effects team to create entirely new feasts for viewers’ eyes.

Gold Derby’s Experts, Editors and Users collectively had “Avatar: The Way of Water” in first place to win the Oscar for Best Visual Effects with leading 31/10 odds. Our runner-up was “Top Gun: Maverick” (4/1 odds), followed by “All Quiet on the Western Front” (9/2 odds), “The Batman” (9/2 odds) and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (9/2 odds).

Earlier this awards season, Letteri told Gold Derby in an exclusive video interview, “Once we knew what the story was, the discussions became more about, are we gonna achieve the specific effects that we need — water obviously being a big one — but characters? A lot more characters with speaking parts in this film, a lot more varieties of characters — old, new, young, different species. Overall, we have not stopped working on it since that postmortem, but the actual final push on the film, when Jim started doing the performance capture, was about five years ago.”

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