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Visual Effects Society Awards: ‘Gravity’ Soars, ‘Frozen’ Sparkles

"Game of Thrones," "Peta: 98% Human" collect three awards each

The Visual Effects Society proved that “Gravity” is causing as much buzz among vfx pros as it is among worldwide audiences.

By the time the pic collected the award for visual effects in a visual effects-driven motion picture, the org’s equivalent of best picture, it had already collected five of the six awards it was nominated for. It finished with six kudos, with star Sandra Bullock in attendance as a presenter and director Alfonso Cuaron an honoree.

Gravity” just proved to great a force to overcome, even for such highly regarded vfx pictures as “Pacific Rim” and “Iron Man 3.  Only “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” was able to beat out “Gravity” for a feature film vfx category, as its eponymous dragon beat out the animated George Clooney in “Gravity” for top animated character in a live-action feature.

“It’s been a great evening” said “Gravity” vfx supervisor Tim Webber, “it’s great to be honored by your peers, especially in a year of such great vfx work.” Webber also thanked George Clooney and Sandra Bullock for their willingness and charm to be put in “very strange space machines,” as well as the “now officially visionary Alfonso Cuaron” for “his courage in making a film which on paper seemed crazy in many ways, for his courage in trusting us to be surch a big part of it when there was nothing there, and really for making such a great film.”

“Frozen” swept the four awards for animated feature film, including outstanding animation in an animated motion picture.

Among TV shows. “Game of Thrones” won three TV awards including outstanding vfx in a broadcast program, with “Banshee” taking the supporting f/x prize. Also winning three awards was 30-second PSA “Peta: 98% Human.”

In accepting the Visionary Award, Cuaron himself had joked about being called a visionary. “”There’s a cautionary tale: So often you see ‘From visionary director.’ Usually, they suck, those movies,” he said. “How many visionaries does it take to change a light bulb? It doesn’t matter, because the light bulb will never change. Visionary is synonymous with ‘Can’t execute.’”

It was a suitably irreverent part of a loose, relaxed and slightly chaotic evening at the Beverly Hilton. Patton Oswalt kicked the evening off by welcoming everyone to “The Gravity Awards” and indeed, there was little tension about most feature film categories.

The VES had decided to eschew the use of teleprompter for presenters this year, instead relying on Oswalt and the celebs at the podium to read from cards. And since each presenter was given several categories, and several envelopes, there loomed the possibility of a presenter opening the wrong envelope. It didn’t take long for that to happen, as Michael Ealy of “Almost Human” read out the winner for effects and simulation animation in an animated motion picture, “Frozen,” after introducing the nominees for FX and simulation animation in a live action motion picture, which eventually turned out to be “Gravity.” (Later in the evening, the introductory clips nominees for the animation category were finally shown, but of course the winner was known by then.)

Later on, in the feature film created environment category, presenter Alyssa Sutherland read out that the winner was “Gravity: Exterior” but the slide on the giant TV screen read “Gravity: Interior” (Both were nominated.) Webber accepted the award and talked about the hard work of the Interior team. Only later did Oswalt announce that Exterior had actually won. By the time Oswalt introduced Sharon Lawrence as Sarah Lawrence, he could say it was “in the spirit of the evening.”

My live-blog of the VES Awards below, with all the winners:

And for the top honor, it’s no surprise: “Gravity”

For animated feature: It’s “Frozen.”

For outstanding vfx in broadcast program, the winner is “Game of Thrones: Valar Doharis.” That’s three awards for HBO’s fantasy phenomenon.

Bruce Boxleitner, Tron in the original “Tron” and Capt. John Sheridan in “Babylon 5,” presents the final awards. “These TV shows are all compelling and suck…. you into their worlds,” he reads from a card, tweaking the org for the lack of a teleprompter.

Supporting vfx in a feature motion picture: “The Lone Ranger.” Which is the only “supporting vfx” nominee up for the Oscar for visual effects. Tim Alexander says of his in-house team and ILM’s partners: “It was a very difficult show, you guys were rock stars.”

A mild surprise: “Banshee” wins for supporting vfx for broadcast program.

Patton Oswalt: “We’re 1/3 of the way through the show! It’s zipping right along.” He dusts off that joke every year for the VES Awards and it always works, because the show really is extremely long. Oswalt then introduces presenter Richard Schiff, who says “I’m glad you mentioned my name, because I’ve been here so long I forgot who I was.” He then noted that he’d been in several vfx films but always ends up dead. So “when you’re planning my demise, keep in mind you’re costing me money by keeping me out of the sequel.” He’s presenting suppporting f/x category. Says he asked about what that means, but didn’t get a satisfactory explanation. Pained howls from audience. I got you covered, Richard Schiff.

And the winner for compositing for feature film is: “Gravity.”

“Bad Grandpa’s” Johnny Knoxville presents compositing. For broadcast program, the winner is: “Game of Thrones: The Climb.” For a commercial: “Call of Duty: Epic Night Out.”

Oustanding visual effects in a commercial: “Peta: 98% Human” wins its 3rd award. That’s three for a 30-second PSA, beating out some very big competition. Impressive

“Wolf of Wall Street” vfx supervisor Rob Legato, next presenter, salutes John Dykstra for his great work and supervising so many people “and always having a smile. It’s disturbing.” Oustanding real-time visuals in a videogame: “Call of Duty: Ghosts.”

Sandra Bullock presents the Visionary Award to Alfonso Cuaron, and salutes the lightbox technology: “It will probably become an industry standard, but ‘Gravity’ will always be the first.” Bullock adds “To ensure my makeup-free face coming at you 30-feet high in 3D would not have the effect of a horror-film. For that I’m eternally grateful.” Cuaron tweaked the idea of being a visionary: “There’s a cautionary tale: So often you see ‘From visionary director.’ Usually, they suck, those movies. How many visionaries does it take to change a light bulb? It doesn’t matter, because the light bulb will never change. Visionary is synonymous with ‘Can’t execute.’” But he thanked his team graciously.

Outstanding animated character in an animated motion picture: “Frozen” – Bringing the Snow Queen to life, a.k.a. “Let it Go.” Here’s a kick: Watch the whole number in 25 languages.

Outstanding animated character in a live-action feature film. Note that “Matt,” i.e. George Clooney, is nominated. And you wonder why he didn’t get a Best Supporting Actor nomination. He’s up against “Leatherback” from “Pacific Rim” and Smaug. And the winner is NOT “Gravity,” but “Smaug” in “The Desolation of Smaug.” Says the Weta animator accepting the award: “I can’t believe we won! I can’t believe we did win — yet.”

Outstanding animated character in a live-action broadcast program: “Peta: 98% Human.” Two awards for that so far. VES isn’t spreading the wealth a lot.

Jamie Kennedy and Sharon Lawrence up to present next. Patton Oswalt calls her Sarah Lawrence. Quips it’s “in the theme of the evening.” By the way Sharon Lawrence looks great. She says “I haven’t had my gravity yet.”  Kennedy retorts “Gravity’s been good to you.”

Douglas Trumbull is presenting lifetime achievement award to his onetime partner John Dykstra: One of the things I would like to say about a guy like John… of being the guy that somebody at a studio can look to and say ‘I really trust this horse to win my race.’ That’s a very rare quality.” Dykstra said it was “overwhelming” to receive such an award.

In created enviroment for live action, which has two nominations for “Gravity,” exterior and interior: The winner is “Gravity.” But which one? Sutherland says “Gravity… Exterior” but the card on the screen says “Interior.” Tim Webber accepts for the Interior team. Oswalt quips “I’m sick of all the exterior shots from ‘Gravity’ winning. It’s about time an interior shot shook things up!” But it turns out that the “Gravity Exterior” was the winner. “Who could fault that awesome amazon?” says Oswalt of Sutherland.

Next: created environment in an animated feature: “Frozen.” Another trend developing.

Alyssa Sutherland from “Vikings” presenting created environment awards. She asks “Can someone help me with iMovie? Since I hit ‘Update’ it’s been a bit witchy.” And someone raises his hand. First: commercial or broadcast program. She says “This has a ‘1’ on it, so I’m opening the right one. And the winner is: ‘Game of Thrones.'”

VES chair Jeff Okun is out now to eulogize Ray Harryhausen. Okun recalls asking Harryhausen about how he did what he did. “He said the trick is, don’t write anything down, lock yourself in, don’t have a phone, and don’t stop to eat.’” His beautiful wife Diana said ‘I used to get so worried, because the guy wouldn’t eat.’”  Okun asks anyone in the aud who was inspired by Harryhausen to stand if they were inspired by him. Most of the room stands and joins a staanding ovation.

The award for vfx in a student project is next. Patton Oswalt says this category reminds him how much time he wasted in his college years, getting high and reading comic books. Watching these clips make a lot of us feel that way, even if we weren’t getting high and reading comic books. Winner: “Rugbybugs” — click through, watch it, and remember: This is a student film. (Really good work coming out of Stuttgart and the Filmakademie Baden Wurttemberg.)

Virtual cinematography in a live-action feature motion picture: Sophie says “I’m kind of hoping I win this award as well.” But the winner is “Gravity.” Tim Webber accepts saying: “I’ve never been on a film where we had a cinematographer involved,” thanks Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki.

Sophie Kennedy Clark of “Philomena” (Or should I call it “Philomania”?) is presenting virtual cinematography categories. Virtual cinematography for television (includes commercials): “The Crew” … and the music plays… and nobody comes forward… and the music plays. And Sophie says “Apparently I’m accepting this award. I’m really thrilled! This was really unexpected.” I see another theme developing for the evening.

So they ran through the clips of the live action FX and simulation animation nominees again, and the winner is: “Gravity.” Well, that was anticlimactic.

FX and simulation animation in a live action motion picture: OOOPS. Michael Ealy opened the wrong envelope. He announced the winner is “Frozen: Elsa’s Blizzard.” Which won for something, I guess. Accepting, winner says “Well that was unexpected.”

FX and simulation animation in a commercial or broadcast program (Includes commercials): “Peta: 98% Human,” which I could have sworn was outtakes from one of the new “Planet of the Apes” pictures. Which I mean as a compliment.

Presenters have more glamor this year: We just had Pharrell, now we have Michael Ealy.

Next up: VFX in a special venue project: Space Shuttle Atlantis.

First Award of the night goes to: “Gravity”! for models. Wow, that Oswalt guy is smart. 

Patton Oswalt is back as host. He welcomed the audience by saying: “Welcome to the first annual ‘Gravity’ Awards!” Later he quipped of honoree John Dykstra: “Dude had a falling out with George Lucas after ‘Star Wars.’ You were the first to know. Why didn’t you warn us?”

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