Oscar-worthy effects

Letter to the editor

To the editor:

The announcement by the Motion Picture Academy of the seven nominees competing for the Visual Effects Oscar (“‘Aviator’ F/X Flying High,” Daily Variety, Dec. 20) left many of us in the effects industry scratching our heads.

How on earth the pioneering work of “The Polar Express” or the impressive work done on “Van Helsing” could have been omitted is something people may be talking about for years.

The unsaid agenda here seems to be that the films singled out focus on, as Henrik Fett of Look Effects told Variety, “effects as a storytelling tool, rather than as a standalone tool.” How else could one explain the Academy’s recognizing “The Aviator,” with relatively limited VFX, over the dazzling CGI of “The Polar Express” or the jaw-dropping monsters of “Van Helsing?”

What this may all mean to those outside the relatively insular world of VFX may be hard to grasp, but a nomination for an effects house can be a make or break deal in terms of their securing future work. The goal is not just to “wow” the audience or the filmmakers, but to receive the recognition from your peers for a job well done. Undoubtedly the work done on “The Aviator” was first-rate, but to not give credit for the innovations of “The Polar Express” is a seeming slap in the face to an industry that is rapidly changing the look of cinema. The fact that there are seven nominees (rather than five, which is the norm for most categories) makes the slight even more pointed.

The VFX Oscar is one of the few that allows recognition for work even in films that by most standards wouldn’t be called “Oscar worthy.” Even a mountain of “For Your Consideration” ads for a film like “I, Robot” was not going to garner Will Smith a best actor nod or the film recognition as best film. Still, the wonderful digital effects in the film got (and richly deserved) a nomination for visual effects.

I am, like nearly every working person in Hollywood, a big fan of Martin Scorsese. However, the politics that may be at work behind the nomination of “The Aviator” for its effects work seems completely out of touch with the sentiments of those of us who put in the countless hours in front of a computer bringing digital images to life.

Foad Afshari

Venice, CA

Foad Afshari is the CEO of Defaultmind, a full service CGI, design, VFX and software development company whose artists have worked on films including “Titanic,” “The Lord of the Rings” and “Hellboy.”