“Avatar” was the big winner at Sunday night’s Visual Effects Society Awards, taking six kudos including the society’s top award — outstanding vfx in a vfx-driven motion picture — and best single visual effect of the year, for the “Neytiri Drinking” scene.
Besides those awards, James Cameron’s high-tech epic took kudos for animated character in a live-action motion picture (“Neytiri”); matte paintings in a feature; models and miniatures in a feature; and created environment in a feature. Pic had received 11 noms and was nominated two or three times in some categories.
So thorough was “Avatar’s” dominance that one of the Pixar team, collecting an award for “Up,” quipped “I feel incredibly lucky ‘Avatar’ wasn’t in our category.” “Avatar” tied “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” for second-most VES wins; “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” took seven at the inaugural VES awards.
“Up” dominated the animation awards with three prizes: animation in an animated feature, animated character in an animated feature, and effects animation in an animated feature. “Coraline” had four noms but no trophies.
“Sherlock Holmes” won for supporting visual effects. “District 9” picked up one award, for compositing in a feature film, actually beating out “Avatar” in the category.
The big victories for “Avatar” and “Up” came as Cameron was on hand at the Century Plaza to accept the VES lifetime achievement award, and Pixar’s Ed Catmull received the George Melies Award for his pioneering work on computer graphics, digital filmmaking and CG animation.
Accepting his award, Cameron said he’d been asked many times about the inspiration for “Avatar” and found himself thinking back to seeing Ray Harryhausen’s films as a small boy, then “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Star Wars.”
“I feel that I’m one of you,” he told the gathering, recalling his early days as an f/x technician.
In a salute to the late Stan Winston, who had been part of the development of “Avatar” but did not live to see the picture completed, Cameron said that when he’d showed Winston some of his early 3D experiments, he told Winston he planned to try 3D on a small movie first.
“Stan said, ‘No, you do the biggest thing you’re going to do with this, you do your “Star Wars,” with this.’ Stan was like that. So we decided to make ‘Avatar.’ I owe that to him,” Cameron recounted.
He noted that the techniques he’d learned in the days before digital are being lost and supplanted by digital effects, “But it doesn’t matter. Because it’s the artists and imaginations and the pioneering spirit that makes visual effects,” adding “I’m deeply honored to be a member of this brotherhood of warlocks and magicians.”
Accepting the Melies Award, Pixar topper Ed Catmull said he hadn’t felt like a pioneer. “I was just trying to have an impact, solve interesting problems with good friends and good colleagues,” later adding “The greatest honor was to have worked with you all these years.”
Among TV projects, “Battlestar Galactica” won for vfx in a broadcast series; “CSI” took the supporting vfx kudo; and “Disney Prep and Landing — Gadgets, Globes and Other Garish Gizmos” prevailed for vfx in a miniseries, movie or special. “CSI” also took the award for smallscreen compositing. The pilot for “V” received honors for created environment in a broadcast program or commercial.
In the vidgame categories, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Gulag Extraction” won for real-time visuals and “Halo 3: ODST — The Life” took trailer vfx honors.
Complete list of winners:
Visual Effects in a Visual Effects Driven Feature Motion Picture
“Avatar” – Joe Letteri, Joyce Cox, Eileen Moran, Richard Baneham
Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature Motion Picture
“Sherlock Holmes” – Jonathan Fawkner, Chas Jarrett, David Vickery, Dan Barrow
Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
“Up” – Pete Docter, Jonas Rivera, Steve May, Gary Bruins
Visual Effects in a Broadcast Miniseries, Movie or Special
“Disney Prep and Landing” (Gadgets, Globes, and other Garish Gizmos) – Dorothy McKim, Scott Kersavage, David Hutchins, Kee Suong
Visual Effects in a Broadcast Series
“Battlestar Galactica” (Ep. 421, “Daybreak”) – Michael Gibson, Gary Hutzel, Jesse Toves, Dave Morton
Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program
“CSI Crime Scene Investigation” (Ep. 1001, Opening Sequence) – Rik Shorten, Sabrina Arnold, Steve Meyer, Derek Smith
Best Single Visual Effect of the Year
“Avatar” (Neytiri Drinking) – Joe Letteri, Joyce Cox, Eileen Moran, Thelvin Cabezas
Visual Effects in a Commercial
Audi – “Intelligently Combined” – Jay Barton, Rafael F. Colon,Ronald Herbst, Chris Fieldhouse
Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project
“Dance of the Dragons” – Eastern – Derry Frost, Michael Morreale
Real Time Visuals in a Video Game
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” (Gulag Extraction) – Mark Rubin, Richard Kriegler, Robert Gaines, David Johnson
Visual Effects in a Video Game Trailer
“Halo 3: ODST – The Life” – Robert Moggach, Ryan Meredith, Jens Zalzala, Michael Pardee
Animated Character in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture
“Avatar” (Neytiri) – Joe Letteri, Andrew R. Jones, Jeff Unay, Zoe Saldana
Animated Character in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
“Up – ‘Carl’ (No Dad Scene) – Ed Asner, Ron Zorman, Brian Tindall, Carmen Ngai
Animated Character in a Broadcast Program or Commercial
AMF – “The Caterpillar” – Robert Sethi, Jamie O’Hara, Becky Porter, Steve Beck
Effects Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture
“Up” – Jason Johnston, Alexis Angelidis, Jon Reisch, Eric Froemling
Matte Paintings in a Feature Motion Picture
“Avatar” (Pandora) – Yvonne Muinde, Brenton Cottman, Peter Baustaedter, Jean-Luc Azzis
Matte Paintings in a Broadcast Program or Commercial
Kaiser Permanente – “Emerald City” – Ben Walker, David Woodland, Kim Taylor, Ben Walsh
Models & Miniatures in a Feature Motion Picture
“Avatar” (Samson/Home Tree/Floating Mountains/Ampsuit) – Paul Jenness, Rainer Zoettl, John Stevenson-Galvin, Simon Cheung
Created Environment in a Feature Motion Picture
“Avatar” (Jungle/Biolume) – Eric Saindon, Shadi Almassizadeh, Dan Cox, Ula Rademeyer
Created Environment in a Broadcast Program or Commercial
V” (“Atrium and Ship Interiors”) – Chris Zapara, Chris Irving, David Morton, Trevor Adams
Compositing in a Feature Motion Picture
“District 9” – Shervin Shogian, Hamish Schumacher, Janeen Elliott, Simon Hughes
Compositing in a Broadcast Program or Commercial
“CSI Crime Scene Investigation” (Ep. 1001, Opening Sequence) – Derek Smith, Christina Spring, Steve Meyer, Zach Zaubi
Visual Effects in a Student Project
“They Will Come to Town” – Thilo Ewers