Songs for the Unsung

by Jody Duncan

16th Annual VES AwardsOstriches, apes, dragons and a Land of the Dead tour guide took top honors at last night’s 16th Annual Visual Effects Society awards presentation. I was lucky enough to be sitting at the Game of Thrones table, where there were big grins and much shaking of hands as the HBO series won recognition in several categories, including the granddaddy Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode. Its feature film corollary, Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature, went to War for the Planet of the Apes, whose visual effects supervisor, Joe Letteri, also won the prestigious Georges Méliès Award for his body of work, which goes back to 1993’s Jurassic Park. Samsung’s ‘Ostrich – Do What You Can’t’ ad also won kudos, as did Pixar’s animated feature, Coco.

I was having too much fun reconnecting with old friends in the business to take copious notes, but here are a few of my off-the-top-of-my head recollections of the evening’s highlights:

Host Patton Oswalt kept the very large crowd in the Beverly Hilton Hotel laughing with a series of to-be-expected nerd jokes. He also lambasted the 1970s and 1980s musical selections that accompanied recipients on and off the stage – but the elder statesmen at my table were grooving to it. (Game of Thrones visual effects supervisor Joe Bauer enthused, “I want the soundtrack to this awards ceremony!”)

Jon Favreau’s speech as this year’s recipient of the VES’s Lifetime Achievement Award was heartfelt. The actor/writer/director seemed genuinely moved by the honor, and he noted what, to him, seemed an irony: he was receiving an award for the privilege of having learned so much from so many of the people in the room. A particularly poignant moment in his speech, for me, was his mention of someone who was not in the room, and to whom he owed so much – the late Stan Winston. As someone who knew Stan for many years and was entrusted to write the definitive book on his long career, The Winston Effect, I am always happy when Stan is remembered.

Cinefex editor-in-chief Jody Duncan with "Game of Thrones" visual effects supervisor Joe Bauer at the 16th Annual VES Awards.

Cinefex editor-in-chief Jody Duncan with “Game of Thrones” visual effects supervisor Joe Bauer at the 16th Annual VES Awards.

A filmed tribute to Joe Letteri included congratulations and remarks by James Cameron, Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg, all of whom showered the venerated visual effects supervisor with praise for his role in bringing films such as Avatar, The BFG, Jurassic Park and the Lord of the Rings trilogy to the screen.

Presenter Gabriel ‘Fluffy’ Iglesias, looking considerably less fluffy than he used to, impressed me. He was given the task of presenting one of the evening’s more technical awards, that for best simulations, but he had obviously taken the trouble of learning just what a simulation is. He could have just read off the teleprompter, but he went the extra mile to understand just what was being honored, and I don’t know how many celebrities would do that.

The night’s two top awards were presented by surprise guest Mark Hamill, who received a standing ovation from a crowd to whom Star Wars means so very much. Hamill was charming and self-deprecating, noting the recently instituted ‘Jedi Pension Plan,’ no doubt a reference to the recent series of Star Wars films.

Patton Oswalt said goodnight to the crowd, instructing the men to get out of their tuxes and back into their usual cargo shorts. (Patton must have visited a VFX company or two in his time, because cargo shorts are, indeed, the preferred uniform item.)

That was the evening – wish you all could have been there!