This year's Oscar Awards were topical for all kinds of reasons. From a demonstration down the street outside about the demise of several VFX studio futures, many crucial in the creation of the Award winning films, and several awkward stage moments for directors, Avengers actors and a winning VFX Supervisor. But first, some details of some winners....
Out of the nine nominated movies: 'Amouré', 'Argo', 'Beasts of the Southern Wild', 'Django Unchained', 'Les Miserables', 'Life of Pi', 'Lincoln', 'Silver Lining Playbook', and 'Zero Dark Thirty', the Oscar for Best Film this year went to 'Argo'. After Seven Award nominations, Ben Affleck and the crew have brought in a story about an undercover team aiming to pull hostages out of Teheran under the guise of a film crew. There goes any chance of any US film crew working in Iran ever again.
The Oscar for Direction went to Ang Lee for the work done on 'Life of Pi'. He gave a promotion of the VFX work done by the many studios involved, but not in so many words. "I want to thank the 3,000 people who worked on this movie with me," he said. OK, not specifically the exact words for VFX crews, but we now know he loves Taiwan and speaks slowly. He thanked his lawyers, the pool keepers, but not the VFX crews. On this night of nights, it was either they forgot, or their microphone got cut off. Read on.
Quoting Deadline magazine here, Ang Lee addressed the concerns of VFX protesters tonight head-on, in talking about Life Of Pi with the press. “This film had great visual effects and it’s false to think that (VFX workers) are just technicians. The movie I wanted to follow was 2001: A Space Odyssey and its sheer visual experience. It’s bad news that visual effects are too expensive and I’m aware of Rhythm & Hues’ (situation).” The director is open about shooting another 3D film, and believes that as the format becomes cheaper, more filmmakers will experiment with it. However, at this moment, Lee is unsure if he’ll tackle another big budget film like Pi. “This movie carried a lot of anxiety for me over four years,” explained Lee, “It was an expensive movie based on a philosophical book and that’s the worst combination."
The Lead Actor Oscar went to Daniel Day Lewis in his incredible portrayal of Lincoln. Nice.
Here's the speech: 'Thanks to the Academy, especially this year they got the shorts out to all the nominees. To everyone at Disney, particularly John Lasseter, Ed Catmull and Andrew Millstein who have just been great at revitalizing the studio. To Kristina Reed my producer, the cast and crew, everyone who helped on it. They made it so much better than I could ever have hoped.' - John Kahrs, Disney.
From Pixar for 'Brave', Mark Andrews; 'I just happened to be wearing the kilt; I didn’t plan any of this. I’d like to thank the Academy for this incredible honor. Making a movie has its own story. I’d like to thank John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, Jim Morris, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Brenda Chapman, Katherine Sarafian for making the making of Brave an exceptional story.'
The Oscar for Best Cinematography went to Claudio Miranda for work on 'The Life of Pi'. OK, here's his speech too. "Oh, gee, wow. This movie was quite a beast to make. We did it, and the thing what I had, was so much, was so great that everyone was just really, totally there and supportive. I mean, I was really into Ang and the beautiful world that we created. It was like one challenge, when you’re a cinematographer and there’s one thing, when you have your eyes and just kind of go up and up and up and you just kind reach this thing. They get really excited, there’s exciting scenes for me that I love, like the candles and the things that we did that was nuts. But it was really great. And I’d like to thank everyone that made this thing totally possible, the Academy, Fox, and oh my God I can’t even speak – I know wrap up now." Claudio Miranda.
'Life of Pi' won the Oscar for Achievement in Visual Effects. Overall VFX Supervisor Bill Westenhofer accepted the award on behalf of Rhythm & Hues’ Animation Director Erik-Jan de Boer, Special Effects Technician Donald R Elliott and MPC VFX Supervisor Guillaume Rocheron. Congratulations to the entire VFX crew(s), plural. Everyone.
'The irony is not lost on any of us up here that in a film whose central premise is to ask the audience what they believe is real or not real, most of what you see is, well, it’s fake. That’s the magic of visual effects. I want to thank Gil Netter and Elizabeth Gabler and all those at Fox and Fox 2000 for realizing that sometimes it takes a risk to make something special. And LIFE OF PI was a risk worth taking. To our director, Ang Lee, you were an inspiration and you made it an incredible journey for all of us. To David Womark, Mike Malone and Tommy Fisher for making a wave tank that kept us from having to go out to the real ocean and John Kilkenny for inviting all of us to the party in the first place. to my family for all the sacrifices they made, Gabrielle I love you so much, to my children: Christopher, Thomas, Alexander and Samantha, thank you for inspiring me every day, my mom and dad thank you for telling me to do any crazy career choice I wanted. Finally, I want to thank all the artists who worked on this film for over a year, including Rhythm & Hues. Sadly Rhythm & Hues is suffering severe financial difficulties right now. I urge you all to remember….' (the microphone by this stage is cut off ) -- Bill Westenhofer.
It was less than a minute into a fairly quick acceptance speech that the orchestra was given the go to play the theme of 'Jaws', a sure sign to get off. Then Westenhofer's mic was shut off. Congratulations to all the artists who worked on this insanely beautiful production, but I know a few artists that just couldn't watch the presentation after that stunt.
More was said in the backstage interviews: 'Q.What does your win mean in light of the state of the industry with VFX, the folks protesting outside, and the Rhythm & Hues bankruptcy?
A.(Bill Westenhofer) What I was trying to say up there is that it's at a time when visual effects movies are dominating the box office, that visual effects companies are struggling. And I wanted to point out that we aren't technicians. Visual effects is not just a commodity that's being done by people pushing buttons. We're artists, and if we don't find a way to fix the business model, we start to loses the artistry. If anything, LIFE OF PI shows that we're artists and not just technicians.
Q.Bill, in light of what's happened with Rhythm & Hues, are you hopeful that whatever happens that you'll be able to keep the same culture? And for the other visual effects supervisors, talk about what this means for you being able to work on a project where the visual effects are very much a part of the aesthetic of the movie.
A.(Bill Westenhofer) So the first part of your question about Rhythm & Hues, it really was something special, experience funded by John, Pauline and Keith, and it was a place that really catered to the artist and supported them really well. It is a concern. We're hopeful that we can pull through the bankruptcy, but it's a concern in all of our minds that the culture is preserved. As long as the key people are maintained in that environment, I think it will carry on. You guys can talk about the second part of the question.
A.(Guillaume Rocheron) Well, I think LIFE OF PI, as you mentioned, is a perfect example of visual effects contributing to the look of a film. And I think with everything we're talking about now is it really shows that visual effects is part of filmmaking. And that we're here, and we contribute to telling stories, making images and, over the years, develop relationships with filmmakers and really trying to be integrated in the filmmaking process as early as possible to give as much as we can to the director and try to make sure he can have his vision on screen. So I think it's really important thing for me that LIFE OF PI kind of shows, it's a turning point where we're not only supplying a service, we're here to actually tell stories and put them on screen.
A.(Bill Westenhofer) One more thing on that point. If you look at the nominees that we shared the award with, we got to the point where you can almost do anything in visual effects. And now going forward, it's not going to be a question of what you've done do. It's how you use the tools to make something special. Just like any facet of filmmaking that's matured, visual effects, it's got to the point where it's really about the artistry going forward.
Q.We've seen you a lot for this month. So the question is, congratulations to everybody for winning the award. The thing is talking about LIFE OF PI, everybody said it was to make the impossible possible, and you guys did a fantastic job. The thing is with you guys coming together, Ang Lee and you make the special effects, but you also tell the story for the tiger. How is that a working process, and the second one is you being in Taiwan for half a year, how much do you like Taiwan?
A.(Bill Westenhofer) I'm going to start with the first half. Taiwan was great. We had a great time, and when you follow Ang Lee around, you're going to be taken to the best possible restaurants, and he shows you a good time. So we had a great time in Taiwan. As far as working with Ang Lee, what's so great about him is that he's a director who knows what he wants, and he communicates it very well, but he lets the people who work for him, visual effects being one of them, he lets us bring our own sensibilities to the table. Talking about the sky, I want this to be liquid gold, and we have to go back and figure out what the heck that means. And so it's our interpretation of liquid gold that we bring to the table, and that makes it a really rewarding process.
Q.I don't know whether you guys have Smartphones and have been checking Twitter, but when they played you off to the theme of Jaws and Bonanza, I had a visual effects artist tweeting, "I'm signing a registration card for my union right now." I'm wondering if you had any reaction to how you were treated on stage.
A.(Bill Westenhofer) There were some things that I did want to say that got cut off. I mentioned them right here, the visual effects are definitely in a challenging position right now, and we've got to figure out how to make this business model work, because there are artists that are struggling right now. It is not just something being done by anyone pushing buttons. There's artistry involved, and we've got to make sure we maintain that, because we start to lose some of the quality we see on stage, if we're not careful.
What does everyone feel about this? Is this a watershed moment?