Avatar: The Way of Water dominated the 21st annual VES Awards tonight, swimming away with nine trophies at the Beverly Hilton. See the full winners list below.
James Cameron’s smash sequel came into the Visual Effects Society’s ceremony with a record 14 nominations. That shattered the old VES Awards mark for films, set by — no big surprise here — the original Avatar, which amassed 11 noms in 2010. It also won the society’s marquee award that night ahead of a VFX win at the Oscars.
Thirteen Lives — the harrowing story of the 2018 Thai cave rescue from Amazon Studios, MGM and United Artists Releasing — won for Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature, and Netflix’s Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio led the toon feature field with three wins including Visual Effects in an Animated Feature.
Along with the marquee prize for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature, The Way of Water snagged statuettes for character, environment, model and virtual cinematography, among others. Since the VES Awards launched in 2002, its main film winner has gone on to take the Visual Effects Oscar in 11 of the 20 years. Last year, Universal’s Dune won the top VES honor en route to Academy Award glory.
The Disney sequel from 20th Century Studios also won this year’s new VES Awards category. The Emerging Technology Award celebrates the creators of the technology behind the visuals and honors the inventors of a novel and uniquely innovative tool, device, software or methodology of outstanding value to the art and science of visual effects, gaming or animation.
The only other film winner tonight was Universal and DreamWorks Animation’s Puss in Boots: The Last Wish for Effects Simulations in an Animated Feature.
Elsewhere, Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power took three trophies to pace the TV winners. Other small-screen shows taking home VES statuettes include HBO’s The Last of Us, Hulu’s Five Days at Memorial and Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy and Love, Death + Robots.
The show opened with a thrilling visual effects clips reel from nominated movies and shows set to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Rude Mood.” Win-win. Patton Oswalt, hosting the show for a 10th time, opened his monologue by reminding the crowd that Cameron calls him “The Shape of Pudding” before roasting recently retired VES exec director Eric Roth.
Oswalt later closed the show by saying: “I’m just seeing on Twitter that Avatar: The Way of Water also won a Tony tonight and Playmate of the Year. I’ll see you all again in 2035 for Avatar 3.”
Rian Johnson presented the night’s first award for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project to the team behind ABBA: Voyage, offsetting the semi-reunited Swedish quartet’s snubs at the Grammys this month. He then presented the award for Visual Effects in a Real-Time Project to video game The Last of Us, Part I.
On the small-screen side, Created Environment in an Episode, Commercial or Real-Time Project, which went to The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, which later also won a pair of other awards including Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode.
Love, Death + Robots won for Compositing and Lighting in an Episode, and The Umbrella Academy took Outstanding Animated Character in an Episode, Commercial or Real-Time Project for the character Pogo. Five Days at Memorial won Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode.
Cameron presented the VES Lifetime Achievement Award to Gale Anne Hurd, calling her “my friend, my mentor and my very first producer. He noted that they met when both were working on low-budget Roger Corman films. They went on to work together on such classics as the first two Terminator films, Aliens and The Abyss. A clips reel reminded of how deserving she is for a VFX career nod.
After saying she “couldn’t imagine getting this award from anybody else,” Hurd said her local movie theater was “essentially my baby-sitter.” She then discussed her mentor Julian Blaustein and said she wrote her first college paper on 2001: A Space Odyssey — and ended working for Corman because he’d read the paper.
“You are my heroes, one and all,” she told the crowd, “and this honor means more to me than you could ever imagine.”
Later it was hugs all around later when Roth, the VES’ former 19-year executive director, took the stage to accept its 2023 VES Board of Directors Award. After warning of a “very long speech” ahead, he thanked “everyone who ever stepped up and made a difference” for the society and those who work hard on its awards show.
After calling this “the golden age of visual effects,” he got very serious, talking about how many VFX pros are “expected to work 14-plus-hour days and 90-hour weeks to deliver their shots.”
Roth said many visual effects pros have to put off retirement “because of the fragile nature of their work reality,” adding, “companies just need to do the right thing because doing the right this is just the right thing to do.”
Here are the winners announced so far tonight at the 2023 VES Awards:
OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A PHOTOREAL FEATURE
Avatar: The Way of Water
OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN AN ANIMATED FEATURE
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A COMMERCIAL
Frito-Lay; Push It
OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A PHOTOREAL EPISODE
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power; Udûn
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A PHOTOREAL FEATURE
Michael Harrison Brian Cox
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A PHOTOREAL EPISODE
Five Days at Memorial; Day Two
OUTSTANDING ANIMATED CHARACTER IN AN ANIMATED FEATURE
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio; Pinocchio
Brian Leif Hansen
OUTSTANDING ANIMATED CHARACTER IN AN EPISODE, COMMERCIAL OR REAL-TIME PROJECT
The Umbrella Academy; Pogo
OUTSTANDING ANIMATED CHARACTER IN A PHOTOREAL FEATURE
Avatar: The Way of Water; Kiri
Rebecca Louise Leybourne
Jung Rock Hwang
OUTSTANDING EFFECTS SIMULATIONS IN A PHOTOREAL FEATURE
Avatar: The Way of Water; Water Simulations
Nicolas James Illingworth
David Caeiro Cebrian
OUTSTANDING EFFECTS SIMULATIONS IN AN ANIMATED FEATURE
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
Kiem Ching Ong
OUTSTANDING EFFECTS SIMULATIONS IN AN EPISODE, COMMERCIAL, OR REAL-TIME PROJECT
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power; Udûn; Water and Magma
OUTSTANDING COMPOSITING & LIGHTING IN A FEATURE
Avatar: The Way of Water; Water Integration
OUTSTANDING COMPOSITING & LIGHTING IN A COMMERCIAL
OUTSTANDING COMPOSITING & LIGHTING IN AN EPISODE
Love, Death + Robots; Night of the Mini Dead
OUTSTANDING SPECIAL (PRACTICAL) EFFECTS IN A PHOTOREAL PROJECT
Avatar: The Way of Water; Current Machine and Wave Pool
OUTSTANDING MODEL IN A PHOTOREAL OR ANIMATED PROJECT
Avatar: The Way of Water; The Sea Dragon
EMERGING TECHNOLOGY AWARD
Avatar: The Way of Water; Water Toolset
Alexey Dmitrievich Stomakhin
Sven Joel Wretborn
OUTSTANDING VIRTUAL CINEMATOGRAPHY IN A CG PROJECT
Avatar: The Way of Water
OUTSTANDING CREATED ENVIRONMENT IN A PHOTOREAL FEATURE
Avatar: The Way of Water; The Reef
Joe W. Churchill
OUTSTANDING CREATED ENVIRONMENT IN AN ANIMATED FEATURE
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio; In the Stomach of a Sea Monster
Javier Gonzalez Alonso
OUTSTANDING CREATED ENVIRONMENT IN AN EPISODE, COMMERCIAL, OR REAL-TIME PROJECT
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power; Adar; Númenor City
OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A REAL-TIME PROJECT
The Last of Us Part I
Mary Jane Whiting
OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A SPECIAL VENUE PROJECT
OUTSTANDING VISUAL EFFECTS IN A STUDENT PROJECT (AWARD SPONSORED BY AUTODESK)
A Calling. From the Desert. To the Sea
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