By NAOMI GOLDMAN
The award-winning definitive authority on all things visual effects in the world of film, TV, gaming, virtual reality, commercials, theme parks, and other new media.
Winner of three prestigious Folio Awards for excellence in publishing.
By NAOMI GOLDMAN
From its auspicious beginnings with a few hundred members in Los Angeles to a flourishing global Honorary society with presence in 35 countries, the Visual Effects Society is proud to celebrate its milestone 20th Anniversary and the exemplary VFX community whose contributions have made the Society what it is today. As the entertainment industry’s only organization representing the full breadth of visual effects practitioners, the VES has built a rich legacy by advancing the arts, science and application of visual effects, improving the welfare of its members, celebrating VFX excellence and serving as a resource to the ever-changing global marketplace.
At its core are a number of essential elements:
A LEGACY IS BORN: HONORING OUR ROOTS AND WINGS
The VES origin story is one of community building and creating stronger appreciation and respect for the artists and innovators doing remarkable work, which today drives box office like never before.
“We were an all-volunteer organization at the beginning with a good cross-section of representatives and a key rabble-rouser as our Founding Board Chair – me,” says Jim Morris, VES, Founding VES Board Chair and President, Pixar Animation Studios. “We knew the VFX community needed better recognition and were willing to be experimental to achieve that through our programs and initiatives.”
“The early VES Board meetings were filled with legendary movers and shakers – [Dennis] Muren, [Jim] Morris, [Phil] Tippett, [Harrison] Ellenshaw, [Jonathan] Erland,” says Jeffrey Okun, VES, former VES Board Chair and Los Angeles Section Chair. “They chose to create an apolitical organization and keep it about the artists, honor and education.”
“Because we loved doing the work and liked each other, that led to greater camaraderie and collaboration as practitioners across company and individual lines,” adds Morris.
WE CAN BE HEROES: THE VES AWARDS
Under the leadership of founding Executive Director Tom Atkin, Founding Chair Jim Morris and then-Board member Jeffrey A. Okun, the Annual VES Awards was the first large-scale undertaking the VES tackled, with the hope that it would have a meaningful impact on the entertainment industry. Now in its 16th year, the VES Awards show is recognized as a world-class event that fulfills the Society’s promise to celebrate extraordinary artistry and the artists who create it. The VES Awards have become the industry’s must-attend event – which recognizes outstanding VFX talent from around the world and fosters the next generation of filmmakers through its Steven Spielberg inspired and Autodesk supported student award. And two VES Sections thus far, New York and London, have hosted regional awards celebrations, further extending the reach and impact of the VFX awards season.
From the beginning, the VES Awards marked a watershed moment for the VFX community wherein below-the-line talent got their deserved moment in the spotlight.
“In the early days – seeing the geeks show up in tuxes was awesome,” says Kim Lavery, VES, Co-founder VES Awards and VES Board 2nd Vice Chair. “These guys and gals work in dark spaces and wear worn out superhero t-shirts most of the time, so they were thrilled to get dressed up and attend a black-tie gala where every nominee walks the red carpet, let alone be nominated or win an award.”
From an operational standpoint, the VES pioneered the electronic view-and-vote for its global membership, which is now industry standard. And today, the VES red carpet and pressroom bustle, and a growing global audience of 175,000+ social media followers, track the results in real-time, while an ever-expanding media footprint celebrates its pedigreed roster of honorees, nomi- nees and winners. But back then…
“I recall vividly when we honored Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks agreed to present it to him; that was our ‘we have arrived’ moment,” adds Okun, VES, Founder of the VES Awards. “But while Hanks was illuminating people on who we are and what we do and we’re all feeling good in tuxedos – cars were being towed outside the Palladium. We’ve come a long way from those early days.”
“We were an all-volunteer organization at the beginning with a good cross-section of representatives and a key rabble-rouser as our Founding Board Chair – me.”
—Jim Morris, VES, Founding VES Board Chair and President, Pixar Animation Studios
GOING GLOBAL: BIRTH OF THE VES SECTIONS
Today, the VES boasts 11 diverse Sections – Australia, Germany, London, Los Angeles, Montreal, New York, New Zealand, San Francisco Bay Area, Toronto, Vancouver and Washington State. Many among the VES leadership note the creation of the Sections as one of, if not the biggest achievement of VES to date.
The aim is always for members to feel that no matter their location, they are part of a unified community, a VFX cloud clubhouse. “While there were a lot of requests for us to address runaway production in California, it was a new day of operating as a global organization and focusing on the issues that cut across geographic lines,” says Jeff Barnes, former VES Board Chair. “Ultimately, it is our consistency and commitment to the mission that has brought real value to our members and industry colleagues.”
In the next three to five years the VES expects to add another half dozen Sections. It has received a petition from India and predicts a number of markets that might be next, including France, Massachusetts, Atlanta, Chicago and possibly China.
“As Chair, I’m focused on ensuring we can successfully handle large organizational growth in the future and that we inspire new generations to lead us forward,” says Mike Chambers, current VES Board Chair. “Our determination to outreach to all corners of the globe and to all of the disciplines across the VFX spectrum has yielded us a very rich, talented membership, and that commitment to diversity will continue to be a driving force of the organization.”
ADDRESSING THE DOLLARS AND SENSE: VES AS INDUSTRY CONVENER
Over the last two decades, the VES has used its position as a convener to take on critical issues affecting its membership and the greater VFX community through forums, white papers, technical platforms, educational events and other opportunities to serve as
a resource. Five years ago, the industry hit a crucial moment that called out for leadership – one with the ability to bring leaders together and help forge solutions to complex challenges. After a series of industry disruptions in 2012/2013 (Rhythm & Hues going out of business, the Oscars protest march, renewed calls for VFX unionization) and fervent worldwide dialogue, VES saw an urgent need to take a wholesale look at the uncertain business climate and conducted a rigorous analysis of commoditization, tax incentives, government dynamics, the impact of technological advancement and inadequate pipeline and pricing models.
This resulted in its publication of The State of the Global VFX Industry 2013, a significant strategic analysis of the business drivers impacting all sectors of the VFX industry working in film production. To get to its final product, the VES assembled a working group of more than three dozen industry representatives including artists, studio, business and labor leaders and facility executives whose companies had operations all over the globe.
“Our determination to outreach to all corners of the globe and to all of the disciplines across the VFX spectrum has yielded us a very rich, talented membership and that commitment to diversity will continue to be a driving force of the organization.”
—Mike Chambers, VES Board Chair
“There were things that hadn’t been said out loud at the time as we were experiencing the race to the bottom,” says Carl Rosendahl, VES, former VES Board Chair, Co-author The State of the Global VFX Industry 2013 and Associate Professor and Director at Carnegie Mellon University Entertainment Technology Center’s Silicon Valley campus. Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. “I’m glad that this vital effort served as an important conversation starter across the industry around the complexities of the system. Some of the issues we identified have normalized and we’re living in a new reality, and I’m keenly interested in how the industry has adapted or innovated to keep pace with our ‘new normal’.”
IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS – THE VES SUMMIT
The VES Summit is an annual one-day forum bringing together top thought-leaders – creative geniuses, business executives, tech- nical wizards, enlightened storytellers, fearless problem-solvers, VR pioneers and VFX Visionaries – to explore the dynamic evolu- tion of visual imagery and the VFX industry landscape.
“My vision was in line with creating more prevalence for the VFX community within the greater entertainment community,” says Rita Cahill, VES Summit Chair and Board Secretary. “I thought if we could create a TED Talks-like atmosphere that would offer thoughtful and mind-boggling perspectives, it would fill an important niche and raise our profile in the process. Our speakers have included a stellar list of luminaries, but some definitely stand out. NASA Interplanetary Robotics Expert Nagin Cox taking us to outer space… our panel of three esteemed AMPAS Presidents… Victoria Alonso speaking on equity for women… last year’s speaker [Dr. Albert] “Skip” Rizzo on using VR to treat PTSD.”
The 9th Annual Summit is just weeks away on October 28 offering a rich program of experts and provocateurs and its special yearly recognition program honoring the VES’s newest Fellows, Honorary and Lifetime members and Founders Award recipients. And building on the global model, for the past two years the Bay Area Section has hosted galvanizing regional Summits, creating a rich forum to showcase their homegrown expertise and build community.
THE GO-TO VFX REFERENCE – THE VES HANDBOOK
And in its ongoing commitment to provide resources that elevate the craft of VFX and its practitioners, the VES achieved a milestone with its publication of The VES Handbook of Visual Effects in 2010 and its second edition in 2014. Hailed as the most complete guide to visual effects techniques and best practices on the market, it covers essential solutions for all VFX artists, producers and supervisors, from pre-production through production and post-production.
The award-winning guide covers areas including stereoscopic moviemaking, color management, facial capture, virtual productions, 3D conversions, compositing of live-action and CG elements and the digital intermediate, as well as detailed chapters on interactive games and full animation.
On the book’s genesis, Co-editor Jeffrey A. Okun noted the ASC’s [The American Society of Cinematographers] go-to manual of photography that became a core educational tool and the parallel need for the VFX community to have a like document to serve as a reference and ‘calling card’ to the other verticals. “In developing this with Susie [Co-editor and VFX producer Susan Zwerman], I wanted it to hit home that there is an enormous amount of science and math and planning, and the result of what you get is based on what you prep. And I hoped that this resource would advance us towards the overall goal of respectability – better credits, better positions in the credits, stronger voice in production meetings.” A third edition of The VES Handbook is slated for release in 2018.
THE LAST WORD
One of the Society’s longstanding goals was realized this year with the publication of VFX Voice. “After shining a light on the artistry and innovation in the VFX community for 20 years, we are immensely proud of launching our premiere magazine, extending our work to advance the profile and recognition of our industry,” says Eric Roth, VES Executive Director.
And a second goal, which gets to the heart of broadening the public’s understanding of visual effects, is well underway.
The VES is working diligently to develop an immersive exhibition experience in a museum setting, so that the general public can truly appreciate the artistry and innovation that goes into the visual effects work they enjoy in record numbers.
Looking ahead, the VES is focused on continuing its path of smart, diversified global growth and providing outstanding programs and value to its members and the broader VFX community.
“I’ve not met a group of artists more committed to their art than VFX practitioners. They may be the purest moviemakers of them all,” says Morris. Consumers have increased their appreciation, but don’t fully understand that VFX creates the entire fabric of filmed entertainment. I’d love for them to understand what is under the hood.”
“The global effects industry does not employ drones that operate mysterious black boxes, simply creating VFX out of thin air,” adds Chambers. “It’s been mischaracterized for years as ‘magic’ and ‘wizardry,’ which greatly undervalues the craft, and we need to make that clear with the industry at large in order to enjoy a broader level of respect and recognition. Visual effects are created by talented, experienced artists and technologists who work very, very hard behind the scenes. And while audiences are ever more savvy to VFX, I would really love for them to realize that some of our members are indeed their rock stars. We’ll continue to lead the charge to bring that awareness to all.”