Academy confirms augmentation of vfx category

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has finally decided to seat the visual effects branch at the grown-ups’ table.

The Acad announced Thursday that there will be five vfx nominees starting with the next Oscar ceremony, instead of three, as was the case through this year.

As first reported in Daily Variety (May 18, 2010), the Acad’s visual effects branch asked for the change. Visual effects was one of few categories with less than five nominees; the rule dated back to when major vfx movies were rare.

The changes were part of the Acad’s annual look at its rules on eligibility and procedures. The org also announced a minor change to the animated-feature rules, defining a “feature” as 40 minutes or longer. That brings the definition of “feature” and “short” in line with live-action films.

Previously the rules had defined an animated feature as 70 minutes or longer, leaving no category for animated movies from 40-70 minutes in length. Also in the feature toon revision is an added definition to make a distinction between animation and motion capture.

Though the number of visual-effects nominees is going up, the process for choosing them will remain unchanged. A list of 15 contenders will be announced early, so branch members know which movies they need to see. The executive committee will select seven of those for the bakeoff, where a gathering of the branch will select the final five.

The Visual Effects Society, Industrial Light & Magic and several other major visual effects companies have long supported the now-instituted change, which brings the Oscars in line with a world where vfx-driven tentpoles are a staple of studio slates and dominate the box office charts.

VES exec director Eric Roth said the move “recognizes that vfx has taken its rightful place along with all the other crafts in the entertainment industry.”Sony Imageworks head of production Debbie Denise hailed the announcement, saying, “I think that at this time in film history, there have been so many advances in technology and what it’s possible to do with visual effects. It’s so much broader than it used to be.”

Paul Franklin, vfx supervisor on Warner Bros.’ upcoming “Inception,” said, “I think it’s recognition of the fact there are more and more films with visual effects that make the grade. Three (nominated films) just wasn’t enough.”

Yet there were concerns within the Academy about the shift. With four nominees per picture, there will be 20 names read from the podium, adding to an already long telecast where every second counts.

However, as the Acad moves to make the Oscars more relevant through such moves as an expanded slate of best picture nominees, the addition of two more vfx nominees is likely to put two more popular movies into the Oscarcast.

Every year, individual branch and category committees review the org’s rules. The awards rules committee then reviews proposed changes and presents recommendations to the board of governors for approval.

The 83rd annual Academy Awards will be presented Feb. 27.

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