Acad avoids ‘Sin’ as f/x race narrows to 7

'Potter,' 'Kong,' among contenders; 'City' shut out

This article was updated on Dec. 20, 2005.

In choosing its seven contenders for the visual effects Oscar, the Motion Picture Academy embraced franchise fare and an 8,000-pound gorilla but proved resistant to the charms of “Sin City.”

“Batman Begins,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “King Kong,” “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” and “War of the Worlds” make up the shortlist, from which the final three nominees will be selected.

Other f/x-heavy films left off the list include “Kingdom of Heaven,” “Stealth,” “The Island” and “Zathura.” “Jarhead,” too, had been considered a dark-horse possibility for its digitally rendered Gulf War military sequences and oil-well fires.

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But the most conspicuously absent film was “Sin City,” perceived as a wild card in the race for its highly stylized monochrome look, taken from the comicbooks of Frank Miller and achieved almost entirely through the use of greenscreen.

Pic, each of whose three storylines was worked on by a different f/x house (CafeFX, Hybrid and the Orphanage), had no credited visual effects supervisor. Had it made the cut, director Robert Rodriguez (who quit the Directors Guild of America to secure a co-helming credit for Miller) would have been credited — virtually unheard of in the history of the f/x Oscar.

Orphanage VP Marc Sadeghi said the seamlessness of the film’s digital effects may have hurt its prospects.

“Many (films) that blaze new trails sometimes are misunderstood or fly under the radar,” Sadeghi said. “It’s disappointing because ‘Sin City’ doesn’t just push the envelope; it broke new ground. It succeeds in doing something that films in the past have not succeeded in doing, and that’s taking a graphic novel and translating it onto the screen.”

While none of the seven picks proved surprising, effects pros said they were indicative of the visual effects branch’s preference for storytelling over spectacle.

“The only way to judge (effects) is whether they are in service to the story or overshadowing the story,” said Eric Roth, exec director of the Visual Effects Society. “Each of the (contenders) has extraordinary visual effects in service to the story. Every single one of them is completely deserving of being on the list.”

Decision hands Warner Bros. a trio of possible nominees (“Batman,” “Charlie” and “Harry Potter”) and one contender each to Disney, Universal, 20th Century Fox, Paramount and DreamWorks.

Industrial Light & Magic was listed as the lead shop on three of the seven — “Star Wars,” “War of the Worlds,” and “Harry Potter” (with Blighty-based companies Framestore CFC and Double Negative).

Framestore also was the lead f/x house on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” while Double Negative worked on “Batman Begins.”

Rhythm & Hues took the lead on “Chronicles of Narnia” (with Sony Imageworks)

“King Kong” was serviced by New Zealand-based Weta Digital.

Pics will face off at the branch’s annual bakeoff Jan. 25, where 15-minute clip reels from each film will be screened for the visual effects award nominating committee. Nominees will be announced Jan. 31.