Brad Pitt's animated head earns high marks

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” took top honors at the seventh annual Visual Effects Society Awards, landing four nods, including visual effects in a visual-effects-driven motion picture — the VES’ equivalent of best picture — and best single visual effect of the year.

All four kudos for “Button” revolved around the title character’s head, which featured Brad Pitt’s face acting on an all-digital head and neck. Pic also took honors for animated character in a live-action picture, even though the character’s body was live action.

“Button” helmer David Fincher presented the VES lifetime achievement nod to the pic’s producers, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, and Marshall thanked the “Button” team, “in case we don’t get to do this tomorrow night (at the Oscars).”

Pic’s lead vfx studio, Digital Domain, had an even bigger night than the movie. DD took five awards, including honors for vfx in a commercial for Bacardi’s “Sundance.” Eric Barba, “Benjamin Button’s” vfx supervisor, declared, “Digital Domain is back” while accepting the evening’s top honors.

”The Dark Knight” won three awards, for models and miniatures, created environment in a movie and special effects. ”Wall-E” swept the three animated feature categories — character animation, effects animation and outstanding animation — at Saturday’s banquet and ceremony at the Century Plaza Hotel.

“Changeling” won two awards, including honors for supporting visual effects in a feature.

On the TV side, HBO’s “John Adams” added three awards to its extensive kudos collection. Sci Fi Channel also did well, as “Battlestar Galactica” took top honors for broadcast series vfx, and “Doctor Who” drew the first effects award the 45-year-old franchise has ever won, for matte paintings.

Creaturemeister Phil Tippett was honored with the George Melies award for artistic merit and pioneering. Tippett, who started his career doing stop-motion animation, thanked mentors Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen and remembered getting physically sick when he learned from Kennedy that “Jurassic Park” would use digital dinosaurs.

“I was dragged screaming and kicking into the digital age,” Tippett said. “Some pioneer.”

The VES Awards are often a bellwether of Oscar voting, but normally occur in time to influence the Acad members. That wasn’t the case this year, and VES chairman Jeff Okun told Daily Variety before the show that the org hadn’t intended to hold its kudofest the night before the Oscars this time around.

“We’re unhappy about the date,” Okun said. “We had booked another venue and got a call in June that we had to move. By then, the only date and the only venue available was the Century Plaza the night before the Oscars.”

VISUAL EFFECTS WINNERS:

Visual Effects in a Visual Effects Driven Motion Picture
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Eric Barba, Edson Williams, Nathan McGuinness, Lisa Beroud

Supporting Visual Effects in a Motion Picture
“Changeling”
Michael Owens, Geoffrey Hancock, Jinnie Pak, Dennis Hoffman

Animation in an Animated Motion Picture
“Wall-E”
Andrew Stanton, Jim Morris, Lindsey Collins, Nigel Hardwidge

Visual Effects in a Broadcast Miniseries, Movie or Special
“John Adams – Join or Die”
teve Kullback, Erik Henry, Robert Stromberg, Jeff Goldman

Visual Effects in a Broadcast Series
“Battlestar Galactica: Season Four” – BSG Space Battle
Gary Hutzel, Michael Gibson, Doug Drexler, Kyle Toucher

Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program
“Fringe – Episode 101 – Pilot
Kevin Blank, Jay Worth, Andrew Orloff, Barbara Genicoff

Best Single Visual Effect of the Year
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – “Benjamin’s Secret”
Eric Barba, Lisa Beroud, Steve Preeg, Jonathan Litt

Visual Effects in a Commercial
“Bacardi – Sundance
Alex Thiesen, Nikos Kalaitzidis, Jay Barton, Zsolt Krajcsik

Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project
“U2 3D – Selected Shots
Peter Anderson, Steve Schklair, David Franks, Jeremy Nicolaides

Real Time Visuals in a Video Game
“Crysis Warhead”
Zoltan Pocza, Gabor Mogyorosi, Tamas Schlagl

Pre-Rendered Visuals in a Video Game
“World of Warcraft” – “Wrath of the Lich King” – Intro Cinematic
Jeff Chamberlain, Phillip Hillenbrand

Animated Character in a Live Action Motion Picture
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” – “Benjamin Button”
Steve Preeg, Matthias Wittmann, Tom St. Amand, David McLean

Animated Character in an Animated Motion Picture
“Wall-E – Wall-E and Eve Truck Sequence
Ben Burtt, Victor Navone, Austin Lee, Jay Shuster

Animated Character in a Live Action Broadcast Program or Commercial
“Brains Dance”
James Sindle, Jesus Parra, Josh Fourtwells

Effects Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
“Wall-E” – Effects in Wall-E
Jason Johnston, Keith Klohn, Enrique Vila, Bill Watral

Matte Paintings in a Feature Motion Picture
“Changeling” – 1928 Downtown L.A.
Romain Bayle, Abel Milanes , Allan Lee, Debora Dunphy

Matte Paintings in a Broadcast Program or Commercial
“Doctor Who” – Series 4 – “Silence in the Library”
Simon Wickers, Charlie Bennett, Tim Barter, Arianna Lago

Models and Miniatures in a Feature Motion Picture
“The Dark Knight” – Garbage Truck Crash Models and Miniatures
Ian Hunter, Forest Fischer, Scott Beverly, Adam Gelbart

Models and Miniatures in a Broadcast Program or Commercial
New Balance – “Anthem”
Ian Hunter, Jon Warren, Matt Burlingame, Raymond Moore

Created Environment in a Feature Motion Picture
“The Dark Knight” – IMAX Gotham City Scapes
Peter Bebb, Stuart Farley, Philippe Leprince, Andrew Lockley

Created Environment in a Broadcast Program or Commercial
“John Adams”- “Join or Die” – Episode 1 – “The Boston Harbor”
Paul Graff, Robert Stromberg, Adam Watkins

Compositing in a Feature Motion Picture
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” – “Benjamin Comes Together”
Janelle Croshaw, Paul Lambert, Sonja Burchard, Sarahjane Javelo

Compositing in a Broadcast Program or Commercial
“John Adams”- “Join or Die” – Episode 1 – “The Boston Harbor”
Paul Graff, Joshua LaCross, Matt Collorafice

Special Effects in a Motion Picture
“The Dark Knight” – Overall
Chris Corbould, Peter Notley, Ian Lowe

Effects in a Student Project
“Plastic” – Transformation Sequence
Sandy Widyanata, Courtney Wise

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