Beowulf has qualified for Best Animated Feature consideration for the Oscars, but will it be recognized in the visual effects category as well? All images © 2007 Paramount Pictures and Shangri-La Ent., LLC. All rights reserved.

While Beowulf has already qualified for Best Animated Feature consideration in the Oscar race, Sony Pictures Imageworks is also seeking recognition for Robert Zemeckis’ performance capture hybrid in the visual effects category as well. VFXWorld recently discussed the ramifications with Visual Effects Supervisor Jerome Chen.

Bill Desowitz: Let’s talk about qualifying Beowulf for the visual effects Oscar. What’s the status?

Jerome Chen: We won’t know until the committee meets in January and figures out the seven [for the bakeoff]. There’s nothing in the rules that disqualifies it. And we’ve talked about this before: My job as visual effects supervisor on Beowulf is no different than on live-action movies — I just did more. And I think of it as a visual effects movie. Otherwise, what have I been doing for the last three years in making visual effects for Beowulf? Here, just because the rest of the movie had to be visualized in the computer, there was much more support to do. Everything I’m doing now I learned on Stuart Little and Stuart Little 2, and Polar Express. I think it is visual effects work.

Jerome Chen thinks of Beowulf as a visual effects movie. Everything he did on the film he learned doing the visual effects work on Stuart Little and Stuart Little 2 and Polar Express.
BD: Is it just a matter of doing a little educating?

JC: Yeah, there will have to be a process of speaking to certain members of the visual effects Academy branch and engage their acceptance of it. If you’re looking from a job opportunity aspect, this increases the use of visual effects and special effects for these types of movies. It’s not eliminating any job opportunities, if that’s what they’re worried about.

BD: If Beowulf gets nominated for visual effects, wouldn’t it set a precedent for CGI?

JC: Yeah, Polar Express looked more like an animated feature to them. In this one, there’s more talk about the visual effects and I think this movie feels more like an effects movie. And I imagine it’s because there’s more realism involved — there’s more detail. So that’s an interesting shift among the public.

BD: But there’s still the performance capture aspect that people are grappling with.

JC: We’re not photographing people, but we’re still using them — there’s still a huge live-action component where you’re dealing with actors like Ray Winstone and Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie. Does live action mean they have to be photographed? I don’t think they’ve defined that yet. What we’re doing is just dialing up the realism, and that’s an artistic choice. Artists are just painting textures to be more realistic, people making the digital sculpts are just putting more wrinkles into the faces, people grooming the hair have added more nostril hair, ear hair and peach fuzz.


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