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May 20th, 2018

How the Academy Decides the Visual Effects Nominees

Earlier this week the Academy of Motion Pictures presented their nominees for this years Oscar awards.  As with every year, the nominations left some feeling completely satisfied while others scoffed at the whole award process.  However, one category seems to have many perplexed this year: Visual Effects.

With a year that was filled to the brim with visual spectacles, it was a wonder how anyone could manage to come up with a short list of nominees.  And yet, the Academy was somehow able to shave down all the eligible contenders to a list of five that included: “Iron Man 3”, “The Lone Ranger”, “Gravity”, “Star Trek: Into Darkness”, and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”.  But why these five?  What about films like “Pacific Rim”, “Man of Steel”, or “Elysium”? Certainly their effects were as good if not better than “Iron Man 3” or “Star Trek: Into Darkness”.

Well, as it turns out, the Visual Effects category isn’t determined by comparing and contrasting the effects of one movie to another, but rather by a special presentation.  The Academy determines the finalists for the Visual Effects category by hosting a special presentation competition in which VFX houses create a short demo reel that highlights their work on the film.  They then take this demo reel and present it to a few of the Academy members who then vote on which presentations impressed them the most.

This means that even if a studio did a fantastic job on the movie, a poor presentation can sink them and cause them to lose a nomination.  So if you’re wondering why the Academy would choose “The Lone Ranger” over “Pacific Rim”, it’s simply because the people behind “The Lone Ranger” had a prettier package to show the Academy.  It doesn’t sound like a very fair way to decide who makes it to the final round, but then people have had complaints about the Oscar process for years.  It’s no surprise that an underappreciated category like the Visual Effects would be so mishandled.



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