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Three’s still a crowd

Burgeoning animation, vfx fields capped at three noms

Visual effects have become a common and essential part of filmmaking, and animated films are more popular — and more common — than ever.

So how come there are only three nominees for best visual effects and for best animated feature? And is that likely to change?

For toons, the reason is historical. For most of Hollywood history, animated features were too rare to require a category of their own.

As competition heated up and the best animated feature award was introduced, it was originally limited to three.

That rule was amended for this year, such that if there are 16 or more qualifying submitted films, there are five nominees. In 2006, 16 films were submitted, but “Arthur and the Invisibles,” a mix of live-action and animation, was deemed to have too much of the former, leaving the nominations cap at three.

The history of visual effects and its predecessor, “special effects,” is more complicated.

First, there was a special achievement award for special effects in 1938, and the following year a permanent category was set up. That year, “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone With the Wind” were among the seven nominees. Both were beaten out by “The Rains Came.”

In the decades following, the category came and went with a plethora of different names and nom limits (reaching a high of 14 nominees in1940).

The visual effects category was launched in 1979, with five nominees, but it was back to a special achievement award the next year. The category returned for good in 1981, with two or three nominees a year.

Where the animation rules tie the number of nominees to the number of eligible films, it’s nearly impossible to create such a rule in visual effects. Even character-driven dramas use digital CGI to remove microphones or other unwanted visual elements in a shot.

But the Acad’s visual effects branch is always reviewing the rules, says Bill Taylor, co-chair of the Academy’s Science & Technology Council (a separate body from the visual effects branch), and it is possible they could go to five nominees on a permanent basis.

“It would be very, very popular with all of us in the visual effects branch if that were to happen,” he says. “But I’m sure everyone in every branch would like to have more nominees.”

A more pressing concern for the Academy may be the number of names allowed for each nominated film. The number of vfx shops, and therefore vfx supervisors, on a big film has been climbing. Yet Academy rules allow only four names on the Oscar nomination.

One explanation for this is that the Academy doesn’t want to devalue the Oscar. “We’re very, very conscious of the value of the statuettes being, in some proportion at least, due to their rarity,” Taylor says.

Overall, though, he says the number of nominees and nominated films is always under scrutiny.

“It’s by no means cast in stone. It’s under slow but constant evolution.”

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