And the winner is…

Life of Pi today was award the Oscar for Best Visual Effects at the Academy Awards. Congratulations to the entire visual effects team. The Life of Pi winners were Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott. See fxguide’s coverage of Life of Pi.

Life of Pi.

It was a big day in visual effects in Hollywood, with an earlier VFX Protest taking place nearby (see fxguide’s coverage here). The Life of Pi team’s acceptance speech was then seemingly cut short – by music from Jaws – as Rhythm & Hues was being thanked. Best Supporting Actor winner Christoph Waltz has 1 min 22 seconds before music began playing (he had stopped talking) and the playoff music for Documentary winner was 53 seconds. The Life of Pi team got 43 seconds before the shark music.

Here is the full acceptance speech (from the official Oscars site):

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….

Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer, Donald R. Elliott, and Bill Westenhofer. Photo credit: Darren Decker / © A.M.P.A.S.

Backstage, Rhythm & Hues and overall Life of Pi visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer described visual effects practitioners as artists, not technicians, when asked about the looming bankruptcy proceedings dogging the effects studio. He said, “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.”

When asked about the future of Rhythm & Hues, Westenhofer noted that his experience there was “something special…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.”

His final point was to say that the industry is “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.”

Also backstage, DOP Claudio Miranda (also a winner for Life of Pi) made particular mention of the visual effects teams. He said, “I would hope that we could really support our VFX companies so they are not just right on the hairy edge of profit. Because these guys did an amazing job on PI; that tiger looks amazing and I really feel we should support those people a little bit more if we can.” He indicated he had worked closely with Rhythm & Hues on the film, and had worked previously with Digital Domain.

The other nominated films were The Avengers, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Snow White and the Huntsman and Prometheus. fxguide also congratulates all the nominees. Meanwhile, Brave directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman won for Best Animated Feauture Film (read about Pixar’s work here) and John Kahrs won the Best Animated Short Film gong for Paperman (see how it was made here).

Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews, winners for Brave.
John Kahrs won for Paperman.

Videos from a back stage “Thank You Cam” are available.