Backstage at the 85th Oscars

Here’s my Oscar takeaway: Brave winning best animated feature proves you should never underestimate the prestige of the Pixar brand; Paperman taking best animated short proves Disney’s back with a breakthrough hybrid approach in keeping with the legacy; the extraordinary  Life of Pi certainly made its mark with director, cinematography, VFX, and music honors; and Lincoln taking production design along with best actor Daniel Day-Lewis proved the inside/out approach was a powerful match. While the Bond 50th clip tribute left a lot to be desired, Shirley Bassey brought the house down with Goldfinger and Adele provided a stirring performance of her Oscar-winning Skyfall. As for Argo, Hollywood and fact-based heroism were an unbeatable combination when it came to best picture.

Unfortunately, Life of Pi VFX winner Bill Westenhofer was cut off from addressing the industry crisis and the Rhythm & Hues bankruptcy during his acceptance speech (there were 400 VFX protestors outside at Hollywood & Vine). He finished his thought backstage: “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.”

I followed up with Westenhofer about retaining R&H’s collegial culture: “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.”

Life of Pi director Ang Lee, who forgot to thank his VFX collaborators during his acceptance speech, provoking an open letter from from Zoic Studios lead compositor Phillip Broste, tried to make amends backstage: “The bad news, it’s too expensive.  It’s very hard.  We heard about Rhythm & Hues…. Once it gets cheaper and easier, more filmmakers are going to dive into that and create something more and more interesting.  And that language will establish the audience in the future.”

Meanwhile, Brave director Mark Andrews explained the bumpy creative road: “I think a magic in animation and filmmaking is how much of a collaborative process it is, where either if you’re working side by side together the whole time or if it was like Brave where there was one director and then another director. The thing that I loved about Brenda’s story was the thing that everybody loved about Brenda’s story, and I wanted to honor that when I came on board for my part of it.”

“Which I feel very much he did,” added Brenda Chapman, the director that was replaced by Andrews.  “And, you know, I told Mark when he stepped in that I was very happy that it was him who took my place because I know he has a daughter with three sons and I knew he would understand, but also he has a love of Scotland as well.  I wasn’t sure about his fairytale sensibility, but it’s not a real fairytale anyway. “

I asked Paperman director John Kahrs about his hybrid breakthrough and the opportunity to make a feature: “We took the kind of old 2D animation and the newer CG animation and put them together in a way that I think hasn’t been seen before. But I think what we did is take the drawn line and the expressiveness and the hand of the artist and bring it into the 21st century.  So I’m really gratified by this and the acceptance of the audience to really look at that technique and that way of seeing animation and just letting the story kind of wash over them.  So, yeah, I do believe that there are different ways that animation can look, and this is one of those ways.”

Lincoln production designer Rick Carter, who previously won for Avatar, discussed this Goya-esque personal journey about the nature of war. ” I was called on by Steven [Spielberg]to begin work on Lincoln all the way back in 2001, even before 9/11, and it’s been literally a journey to be in the pursuit of trying to find a way to honor his legacy.  At first, it was a broad canvas and it was narrowed over time to be reflective of the last three months of Lincoln’s life.

“And it was also very much the culmination of a series of movies that Steven has done and I’ve been involved with that have dealt with the nature of war.  And if you think of War of the Worlds and Munich and War Horse and this movie, they form a group of movies that I think is in response to our times.  And so for me to work with somebody such as Daniel Day-Lewis who came in and personified Lincoln so completely, it was an opportunity not to do a broad canvas such as Avatar, with new technology that you can actually go back and create a portrait that was very much from the soul.”

Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall earned only the sixth tie in Oscar history for their sound editing victories. I asked Per Hallberg what it was like creating such a versatile soundscape for a meta Bond movie in which quiet moments were emotionally resonant.  “Well, you know, the reality is that by picking Sam Mendes to do a Bond movie, you’ve already set the shape of the movie totally different.  He’s one of the great storytellers in movies right now that works a lot with emotion and feeling and subtleties, and that’s not normally what Bond is all about.  And I think at the end of this we had to learn what he needed.  He needed to get used to the idea of what kind of film he was doing, and I think we ended up with this great middle ground of giving the audience the feel of the Bond movie, but still a lot of that sensitivity and emotional feeling that Sam needs and wants in his movies.  And we were very happy with it.”

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Events, James Bond, Movies, Oscar, previs, Production Design, Shorts, Sound, Tech, VFX, Virtual Production

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