Category may need to grow as effects work spreads

As the number of f/x films increase, will the number of nominees be upped?

When visual effects earned its own branch at the Academy 10 years ago, it was where you went for explosions, fires and spaceships. Now, as visual effects appear in everything from the summer blockbuster to the quiet indie film, it’s an art that may be bursting out of its three-nominee status.

“Once the number of films containing a significant amount of visual effects was in the tens, so three nominees was appropriate, but now there are at least a hundred on an annual basis,” says John Dykstra, “Spider-Man 2” visual effects supervisor. “I think the idea of five nominees, like so many other categories, is something to consider when you look at how many films contain visual effects.”

The visual effects category was established with three permanent nominees in 1996. For each film nominated, the contributions of up to four people can be cited. According to Academy visual effects executive committee chairman Richard Edlund, the category is structured this way in order to recognize the vast number of different disciplines involved in creating visual effects. “Visual effects can be anything from computer animation to pyrotechnics to things we haven’t even thought of yet,” Edlund says.

“The fact that there are as many 12 nominees already in this category every year is something to consider,” says Rich Miller, the Academy’s awards administration director. “The Academy doesn’t want to dilute the meaning of the awards, so it would carefully consider whether or not it was the right thing to have a category with five films nominated and as many as 20 people as nominees.”

Visual Effects Society executive director Eric Roth doesn’t see that potential number of nominees as excessive. “We have 23 categories of achievement at our VES awards ceremony,” Roth says. “There are so many things involved in visual effects and so many people contributing to creating them that for a lot of them it’s probably very difficult to choose only four people for the nominations for each film at the Oscars.”

Though Edlund believes preserving the significance of the Oscars is important for the Academy, he also sees the progress of art form. “Visual effects have really become part of the grammar of film,” says Edlund, who shares along with Dykstra and others a visual effects Oscar for “Star Wars.” “It makes cinema a more pliable art form in the hands of the director and that’s why so many films now incorporate them. So, overall, I don’t see that having five nominations would decrease the meaning of these awards.”

The questions of when and how visual effects could be allotted five nominees in its category are not easy to answer. The Academy doesn’t have a prescribed or defined amount of time required when increasing a category’s number of noms.

“There’s no precedent for how long it takes for a category to move from three nominees to five,” Miller says. “That’s because each type of artistic contribution is unique, and the way it grows in importance is also unique. This would have to be brought before the Academy’s board of governors, and then they would have to deal with the issue.

“It’s also important to understand that there are people who call the Academy all the time wanting this category or that one to be added to the list, but it’s important not to diminish the meaning of these awards.”

While their opinions may vary, Dykstra, Edlund and Miller all believe it could be a long time before the Academy adjusts the number of visual effects noms.

“Most of these things take years,” says Miller. “It’s not a quick process, because the Academy wants to be sure that any changes made are the right ones and this is the way to do it.”

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