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Golden Compass: First Flop to win VFX Oscar in Nearly a Decade

For once a great performance is not overlooked simply because hardly anyone saw it.

By Mark Christiansen | February 26, 2008

Visual Effect Academy Awardsâ„¢ are not much different from any other category in at least one respect: great performances in films that underperform at the box office tend to be overlooked. I and many others thought that Transformers had this year's visual effects Oscarâ„¢ all sewn up not only because the work was amazing - not just the amazingly complex 3D animation but some really fantastic compositing. Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (on which this author contributed a few shots) was clearly not going to win as that would break an Oscar taboo: the repeat winner (since Pirates 2 took a statue only last year).

And yet, nearly as much of a long-shot seemed to be The Golden Compass simply because the film was a flop, and Hollywood is allergic to losing money (despite many examples to the contrary) - this despite that many in the visual effects community believe it contained the most ground-breaking work, raising the bar for complex interactions between computer generated creatures (realistic looking daemons, the animals representing the soul/anima of the human characters) and recreating grand scenes of steam-punk London and Oxford and grand vistas of the Arctic. Not since What Dreams May Come has a vfx film lost money at the box office and taken the statue.

Perhaps Hollywood's love of giving the prize to anyone but ILM - who along with the 49ers were the bay area force no one could beat in the 80's and early 90's - trumped the box office vote. However it happened, a great visual effects film (albeit a failed re-telling of one of the best novels of the past decade) won.

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anonymous: | March, 05, 2008

Is there really an Oscar Taboo on repeat winners in the VFX category?

The Lord of the Rings won three years running.

Ben: | March, 11, 2008

Is this film the first winner to outsource work to India? Some of the key character work for this was done over there. This award is pretty much a slam dunk endorsement for outsourcing effects work. It will be interesting to see how this influences the industry.

Mark Christiansen: | March, 12, 2008

That’s a great point about outsourcing that we’re considering exploring over at the VFX Show podcast. It may lead to a lot more outsourcing, or it may be that Rhythm & Hues is way ahead of the competition and has created something hard to replicate.

Ben: | March, 12, 2008

Definitely worth some further exploration. It seems like Rhythm & Hues is very open in sharing the inner workings of their model. They did that pretty in depth article for StudioDaily so it will be interesting to see what happens as others try to do the same.

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