Is it Weta’s time for an Ape Oscar?

Today in Hollywood, War for the Planet of the Apes was nominated for a Visual Effects Oscar. Nominated was Joe Letteri, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist and Dan Lemmon. (Interestingly, Weta was also part of the team on Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and while Weta is clearly glad to be a part of the Guardians team, lead by VFX sup. Guy Williams… but Apes is very much a ‘Weta film’.

Weta Digital’s Joe Letteri 10-time Oscar nominee, and Senior Visual Effects Supervisor on the film commented this morning from Wellington, “We are immensely proud of this work and grateful to the Academy for recognizing War for the Planet of the Apes with a nomination today This is the final film in the trilogy, and we’ve been really happy to see how audiences have been swept up by the emotional story of Caesar and his fellow ape characters.”

We spoke to Dan Lemmon, visual effects supervisor via phone about the nomination, and below is a new fxguidetv video (we recorded prior to this morning’s announcement).

fxguide will also be looking in depth at the technology behind of War for Planet of the Apes over the next two weeks including the environment tool Totara and the new colour pipeline Physlight.

“We are thrilled and honored to be included in the nominations this year, it was a year of some extraordinary films and some very strong work, and it is an honour to just be included amongst this group” Dan Lemmon commented from Weta, in Wellington. “We pushed the limits of our technology and our artists as we worked to create characters that were visually realistic and emotionally authentic.”

Lemmon was a winner at last year’s Academy Awards, winning the Best Achievement in Visual Effects Oscar for his work on The Jungle Book and with this morning’s news, he is now 4 time Oscar nomineeBut while Dawn of Planet of the Apes was nominated for an Oscar in 2015 and Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2012, the franchise itself has never won an Oscar.  This, despite raising the bar on character animation and producing such incredible performances such as Caesar, Koba, Maurice and Bad Ape over the course of these films. This latest Ape’s film has grossed around half a billion dollars and received near universal critical praise, with a 93% rating on  Many reviewers highlighted the performances of Caesar and Bad Ape (see below) as being exceptionally moving. The film is unique in having the lead character as a CGI talking creature, and yet delivering enormous range and emotional depth.

There is little doubt that Weta’s VFX work breaths very rarified air.  Their work is some of the most impressive and innovative done worldwide, but it remains to be seen what mix of talent, innovation, difficulty and story telling the Academy voters reward with this year’s VFX Oscar.

Above: We speak to Dan at Weta about the incredible acting delivered on screen for ‘Bad Ape’

War for the Planet of the Apes and Blade Runner 2049 have each been nominated for 7 VES awards, but will this be the year Weta takes home the Oscar statue? The Oscar nomination is a result of peer assessment at the annual Oscar Bake off. But the actual Oscar is decided by the whole academy vote, and often this vote reflects politics, whims and even nostalgia for a pre-digital age.

Dan Lemmon, was incredibly impressed with all of the submissions at this year’s VFX Oscar Bake off, “it was one of the more engaging bake offs I have been to – just the variety and universally high standard of work was great”, he commented. “My personal opinion is that things changed a bit when we went from 3 nominations to 5 nominations. The situation, where people vote for the film that impressed them over all, but not entirely due to visual effects seems to happen more often…the Academy Awards are what they are,..and by virtue of what they are, it is the highest honor that you can get” Lemmon explained. Yet as strong as this year’s nominees are, Lemmon also beliefs that in some year’s past, if the Academy still only allowed 3 nominees in the VFX category, rather than the current 5, the actual results could have been very different. “Certainly in the last 10 years as we moved to 5 nominations from 3, I think some of the winners would not have actually made the nominations (if there were only 3 films nominated) … it is an interesting question – would we be doing a better service to our craft if we stayed with 3 nominations?” He also points out that this may not be a just a VFX issue as the other craft categories may also experience the same effect when it comes to voting for a craft category winner.