F/X duo in Oscar dispute

The pyrotechnics surrounding the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ visual effects awards this year won’t all be on the screen.

A pair of visual effects workers on two major features are publicly charging that their names have been unfairly excluded from Oscar ballots.

Tricia Ashford, credited as digital visual effects supervisor/producer in “for your consideration” trade ads for 20th Century Fox’s “Independence Day,” told Daily Variety that her name had been omitted from the list of effects personnel submitted to the Academy by the film’s producers.

Todd Masters, credited as “Borg effects supervisor” on Paramount’s “Star Trek: First Contact,” sent the Academy a letter on Tuesday expressing his dissatisfaction with the committee’s decision to exclude him from awards consideration.

Richard Edlund, the chairman of the Academy’s visual effects branch executive committee, acknowledged Thursday that the 2-year-old effects branch is undergoing “growing pains.”

Raised from committee standing to full-fledged branch status two years ago, the visual effects arm has ruled that only four names may be submitted for Academy Award consideration from an individual picture.

And the branch’s 30-member executive committee determines whether the names submitted by producers represent the top creative credits on the visual effects side.

Producer overruled

“Star Trek’s” producer Peter Lauritson named Masters as a member of the effects team under consideration for an Oscar. But the AMPAS effects committee removed Masters’ name from the ballot and substituted Terry D. Frasee, credited as special effects supervisor. Others nominated for the pic are John Knoll, George Murphy and David Takemura.

Separately, Ashford was notified by “Independence Day” exec producer Bill Faye that her name would not be submitted because of the f/x committee’s four-names-only rule.

The four names under official Oscar consideration for the pic are visual effects supervisors Voker Engel and Doug Smith, Joseph Viskocil for pyrotechnics and Clay Pinney for mechanical effects.

Ashford said she is “appalled” by her exclusion from the list.

Edlund maintains that Ashford wasn’t eligible for an Oscar because her role was mainly that of producer, as op-posed to an effects supervisor.

Ashford demurs

Ashford said her contributions to the film included helping to determine which shots should use models and miniatures or computer-generated images, and whether some shots were to be done on-camera or digitally composited. She told Daily Variety she also decided which software packages to use — a choice some effects mavens liken to the choice of film stock made by cinematographers.

Masters said he is concerned because packets containing information about the nominees were distributed to all 150 members of the Academy’s visual effects branch. About 30 members of that group comprise the exec commit-tee that votes on which names appear on the ballot.

“I’m a little upset about the way the committee made its decision. Because the packets had already gone out, now people who saw them may wonder why my name was pulled, and may question my reputation,” he said.

Masters runs his own visual effects shop in Arleta, where much of his work consists of makeup effects and animatronics. “I felt we did more than just makeup, but they made a decision without interviewing anybody here. I don’t want to embarrass anybody, and I don’t want to sound like sour grapes,” Masters emphasized.

Rules binding

Edlund told Daily Variety that he understands why Masters would be angry. But the effects branch operates under strict rules that determine who is eligible for an Oscar. According to Edlund, “Masters did an outstanding job on ‘Star Trek.’ But when work is primarily in the makeup and costuming areas, it’s not considered visual effects work.”

Added Edlund, “I apologize to Todd, and I’ll endeavor to change the process next year if I’m chairman of the committee. We’re going through growing pains.”

Regarding Ashford, “Day’s” Bill Faye said, “We agonized over this. There are five very deserving people. … It’s just very difficult for us to break it down any further than five names.”

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