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John Lasseter honored at 4th Annual VES Awards

John Lasseter honored at 4th Annual VES Awards

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If you're the kind of person who likes to sit in a movie theatre watching and reading as all the credits roll by, have I got an awards show for you!

Last Wednesday, the Visual Effects Society (VES) held its fourth annual awards show at the Hollywood Palladium in Hollywood, California. The star-studded, black-tie event played host to a "who's who" of the biggest names in visual effects from television, motion pictures, commercials, music videos, and video games.

Also honored that evening were the founding chairman of the VES, Jim Morris, and Pixar Animation creative executive John Lasseter, who received the Georges Melies Award for his "pioneering, significant, and lasting contributions to the art and science of the visual effects industry."

John Lasseter
Image courtesy of VES

The VES is one of the entertainment industry's youngest and most respected guilds and societies. Created in 1977 by the heads of the visual effects departments of all the major studios, it has 1,300 members in 16 countries. Its members comprise a diverse group of artists, producers, model makers, educators, studio executives, supervisors, and PR/marketing specialists, all of whom create visual effects for film, television, video games, commercials, animation, and special venues.

In just four short years, the VES Awards have become one of the most prominent parts of what's become known in Hollywood as the "awards season." The VES prides itself on what awards cochairman Tim McGovern calls "the most democratic nominations" practiced among all the major awards ceremonies.

Late each fall the VES awards committee collects hundreds of awards submissions. They spend weeks viewing and separating each submission into the appropriate categories. The committee then organizes an all day "Show and Tell" event where potential nominees present and screen their submissions before their peers. Each candidate is given the opportunity to explain in technical detail exactly what went into the making and production of their submission.

Prior to this year's awards show, Eric Roth, VES Executive Director, personally welcomed guests, posed for pictures, and spoke with the media in the foyer of the Hollywood Palladium. "There are lots of awards shows that take place at this time of year," Roth said. "Tonight, however, you'll witness something none of the other shows have-billions of dollars of the most amazing visual effects you can possibly imagine."

When asked about the growing amount of CG animation being used in films possibly blurring the line between animated films and effects-based films, Roth said, "In visual effects, if we do our job right the audience isn't aware that what they're seeing isn't what really happened. That's why you often hear visual effects being called the invisible arts."

Roth went on to say that while films like "King Kong" and "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," both VES nominees this year, contain whole scenes that audiences know can't possibly be real, they nevertheless, thanks to the skills of hundreds of visual effects specialists, willingly accept the illusion as reality. So much so that audiences never stop watching the movie and start talking about the "cool" backgrounds.

Because so many of today's animated movies use the same skills, techniques, and crafts honored by the VES in other forms of filmmaking, Roth was also asked about the possible inclusion of a best animated feature category. "Currently, we do have an award for Outstanding Character in an Animated Motion Picture," Roth said. "However, you're right, the (Motion Picture) Academy and now the Golden Globes both have awards for best animated film. It's very possible that we'll (VES) be considering an award for outstanding achievement in animated motion picture sometime this year."

Despite the fact that check-in for the 4th Annual VES Awards began just after six in the evening, with 20 award categories and two special individual achievement awards, the ceremony ran into the first hour of the following day. Guest presenter Cheech Marin, who will be heard later this year in the Disney Pixar production of the John Lasseter film "Cars," got one of the biggest laughs of the evening when, just half-way through the program he said, "Boy, isn't this a great show. The first five hours just flew by."

Actor, and the voice of Mr. Incredible from Brad Bird's film "The Incredibles," Craig T. Nelson also broke up the audience as he sight-read and stumbled through the description of, and qualification for, Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project. Without missing a beat or changing the tone of his voice, when he reached the end of the lengthy technical jargon, Nelson said, "Who the hell cares?"

Craig T. Nelson
Image courtesy of VES

The description for the next award presented by Nelson, Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program, was for effects "intended not to be noticed by an audience." After reading that, Nelson looked out to the audience and deadpanned, "You're describing my career."

Earlier in the evening, Jim Morris, founding chairman of the VES, was honored for his hard work and dedication to the VES with the Board of Directors Award.

During the 17 years that Morris worked at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), first as a visual affects producer and eventually President of Lucas Digital Ltd., ILM revolutionized the industry of visual effects storytelling. Among Morris' credits are "The Abyss," "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," "Death Becomes Her," "Jurassic Park," "Forrest Gump," "The Perfect Storm," " Pearl Harbor" and the "Star Wars" prequel trilogy.

"Jim successfully led the company into the digital age," said George Lucas at the time of Morris' departure from the company in 2005. In February of that year, Morris joined Pixar Animation Studios, where he is currently producing an upcoming feature.

Edie McClurg (l) & Ed Catmull
Image courtesy of VES

Throughout the evening fellow celebrity presenters Bonnie Hunt, Katherine Helmond, Edie McClurg, and John Ratzenberger-all of whom share one thing in common, having worked with VES Georges Melies honoree John Lasseter-joined Nelson and Marin in paying tribute to the creative genius behind Pixar Animation's success.

Katherine Helmond
Image courtesy of VES

John Ratzenberger, commenting on the fact that it was last October when the VES selected Lasseter as this year's Melies recipient-and since then Lasseter had gone on to be named creative head of Disney animation-said:

John Ratzenberger (l) & John Lasseter
Image courtesy of VES

"I don't know if anybody else read the article that was in the same paper (the day of the Disney-Pixar announcement)...ah, page 18, tiny little thing...where it was reported on that very same day, Walt Disney stopped spinning in his grave."

"The one thing, above all things, that I admire about John," said Bonnie Hunt, just prior to bringing Lasseter on stage to accept his award, "He loved Disney and he wanted to be at Disney animation... and now he's back there. How amazing is that? And he's running it. I mean what an inspiration."

Bonnie Hunt
Image courtesy of VES

Hunt went on to recognize Lasseter's ability to lead, "talented creative people," with "respect for their ability, their story telling, their character, and just their individuality...."

Then in the sense of "play" that every speaker credited Lasseter with, Hunt began effusively extolling the amazing things that Lasseter and everyone in the room were capable of doing.

"Oh my God!" Hunt said. "John, well you know how I feel." Turning to the audience, she said, "We slept together last night," and after a big laugh she continued, "And believe me, it was fully animated!"

In selecting John Lasseter as this year's Georges Melies Award winner the VES had this to say, "As founder and current executive vice president of Pixar Animation Studios, Lasseter has played an instrumental role in creating some of the most lovable and recognizable characters ever put on screen. Whether as director ("Toy Story," "A Bug's Life," "Toy Story 2") or executive producer ("Monsters Inc.," "Finding Nemo," "The Incredibles"), Lasseter set the creative bar for digital feature animation at solid storytelling rather than the number of pixels crunched...."

In a filmed tribute to Lasseter, Pixar CEO Steve Jobs said, "I've seen John grow from an animator into the greatest director in animation in the last twenty-five years, and into one of the finest leaders I've ever met in my life.... I think John's greatest legacy is going to be Pixar. And it's gonna last after we're all gone."

After a prolonged standing ovation, Lasseter, in accepting the George Melies Award, told the audience how even as a young man entering one of the first character animation classes at Cal Arts, he felt that he was always fortunate for being in the right place at the right time.

While at Disney in the early days of his career, Lasseter saw the earliest digital light cycle sequences from "Tron." "It was like a little door in my head had opened up. I was blown away by, not exactly what I was seeing, but the future I saw in the sequence. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Walt Disney, all his career, all his life, was striving to get more dimension into his animation.... I was standing there looking at it, seeing this was what Walt was waiting for."

An excited young Lasseter began talking to all the other animators and the executives at Disney about what he saw as this exciting new tool for creating animation. "And no one could see it," Lasseter said. "I literally was told at that time, we're only interested in computer animation if it made it faster to produce the animation or made it cheaper."

Lasseter told the story of how he and his good friend Glen Keane, along with Chris Wedge, were able to produce a 30-second CG animated test called "Where The Wild Things Are." Keane did the character animation, and Lasseter and Wedge used computers to move through the background, in and around objects, "like a stedicam."

"And I saw the future," Lasseter said. "This was so amazing and so exciting to me. And it fell on deaf eyes at the studio. No one could see it at that time."

One man did see the potential for what Lasseter was doing and that was Ed Catmull, then at Lucas Film. Catmull asked Lasseter to join him at Lucas Film to see if in addition to backgrounds, if computers could be used to animate characters.

"Well Ed," Lasseter said continuing his story. "I just got fired from Disney. Let's give it a shot."

And, like the man said at the end of "Casablanca," that was the beginning of a beautiful relationship, one that continues to this day.

Lasseter only briefly touched on the topic of his new duties, following the acquisition of Pixar by Disney when in closing he said,

"I'm really looking forward to working with all the amazing artists at Disney again. And so, VES, thank you so much for this award. I'm really touched and honored. Thank you all. And to Nancy (Mrs. John Lasseter), I love you."

Nancy Lasseter, Sulley & John Lasseter
Image courtesy of VES

Following Lasseter's acceptance, there were still awards to give out as The 4th Annual VES Awards crept closer to the midnight hour.

"King Kong" was honored with the awards for Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Motion Picture and Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects Driven Motion Picture.

The Best Single Visual Effect of the Year award went to Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" for the "Fleeing the Neighborhood" scene. And Kingdom of Heaven won the award for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Motion Picture.

Earlier in the evening, the Aardman Animations Ltd., DreamWorks Animation production of "Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" continued its shut out of CG animated films. The character of Gromit from "Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" won the award for Outstanding Character in an Animated Motion Picture, beating out nominees King Julian from "Madagascar" and Fender from "Robots." This was the only category Wallace and Gromit was nominated in.

Credit Crawl - The complete list of winners from The 4th Annual VES Awards:

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects Driven Motion Picture
"King Kong"
Joe Letteri, Eileen Moran, Christian Rivers, Eric Saindon

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Motion Picture
"Kingdom of Heaven"
Wes Sewell, Victoria Alonso, Tom Wood, Gary Brozenich

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Broadcast Miniseries, Movie or Special
"Walking With Monsters"
Tim Greenwood, Jo Nodwell, Neil Glasbey, Darren Byford

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Broadcast Series
"Rome" -- Episode 1
Barrie Hemsley, James Madigan, Duncan Kinnaird, Joe Pavlo

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program
"Lost" -- "Exodus" Part 2
Kevin Blank, Mitchell Ferm, Eric Chauvin, John Teska

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Commercial
Guinness noitulovE
William Bartlett, Scott Griffin, Andrew Boyd, Dan Seddon

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Music Video
Nine Inch Nails -- "Only"
Eric Barba, Lisa Beroud, Jay Barton, Jim Gaczkowski

Best Single Visual Effect of the Year
"War of the Worlds" -- Fleeing the Neighborhood
Dennis Muren, Pablo Helman, Sandra Scott, Marshall Krasser

John Landau (l) & Dennis Muren
Image courtesy of VES

Outstanding Real Time Visuals in a Video Game

"Need For Speed -- Most Wanted"
Habib Zargarpour, Luke Wasserman, Greg D'Esposito, Colin O'Connor

Outstanding Pre-Rendered Visuals in a Video Game
"Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones" --The Palace Balcony Cinematic
Jean-Jacques Tremblay, Raphael Lacoste, Anne Mai Le Bouyonnec

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project
"Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon"
Jack Geist, Sean Phillips, Johnathan Banta, Jerome Morin

Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Motion Picture
"King Kong" -- Kong
Andy Serkis, Christian Rivers, Atsushi Sato, Guy Williams

Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Motion Picture
"Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" -- Gromit
Loyd Price

Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Broadcast Program,
Commercial, or Music Video
"Battlestar Galactica" -- Season 2, Episode 03 "Fragged"-Cylon Centurion
Andrew Karr, Louie Hinayo, Gary Hughes, Allan Henderson

Outstanding Created Environment in a Live Action Motion Picture
"King Kong" -- New York Dawn Attack
Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White, Matt Aitken, Charles Tait

Outstanding Created Environment in a Live Action Broadcast Program,
Commercial, or Music Video
"Into The West" Mini-Series Movies I, II and III
Cedric Tomacruz, David Bailey, Valeri Pfahning, Siddhartha Jayakar

Outstanding Models and Miniatures in a Motion Picture
"War of the Worlds"
Ed Hirsh, Steve Gawley, Joshua Ong, Russell Paul

Outstanding Models and Miniatures in a Broadcast Program,
Commercial, or Music Video
"Las Vegas" TV Series-Episode 308 "Bold, Beautiful and Blue"
Michael Cook, Anthony Ocampo, Eugene Kim, Renaud Talon

Outstanding Compositing in a Motion Picture
"War of the Worlds"
Marshall Krasser, Michael Jamieson, Jeff Saltzman, Regan McGee

Outstanding Compositing in a Broadcast Program, Commercial, or Music Video
Stefano Trivelli, Michele Moen, Kelly Bumbarger, Sean Wilson

George Méliès Award for Artistic Excellence
John Lasseter

Visual Effects Society Board of Directors Award
Jim Morris

Would you like a little more insight into Mr. Lasseter's appearance at the Fourth Annual VES Awards? Then JHM suggests that you checked out O-meon.com tomorrow. When Chuck will follow today's article with a few more thoughts on the new head of WDFA.

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