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 ambitious inception in late 1996 with a few hundred members in Los Angeles to a flourishing global honorary society with more than 4,000 members in over 40 countries, the Visual Effects Society is proud to celebrate its milestone 25th 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.
The Society has demonstrated its commitment to elevating the craft of visual effects and its practitioners in numerous ways, including:
• Giving birth to a tight-knit global community and 14 diverse VES Sections – Australia, Bay Area, France, Georgia, Germany, India, London, Los Angeles, Montreal, New York, New Zealand, Toronto, Vancouver and Washington;
• Publishing three editions of the industry’s go-to VFX reference, The VES Handbook of Visual Effects, and launching its award-winning print and digital magazine VFX Voice;
• Establishing the VES Hall of Fame and VES Honors program to recognize exceptional contributions to the Society and VFX community;
• Developing valuable programming that educates, inspires and uplifts, including a wealth of virtual content featuring the VFX Pros: Home Edition and VES-Autodesk Ask Me Anything: VFX Pros Tell All webcast series;
• Hosting the VFX industry’s must-attend Annual VES Awards, which recognizes outstanding VFX talent and fosters the next generation of filmmakers;
• And finding new ways to support and invest in our members, with mentoring, skills building, educational and health and wellness resources.
VES CHAIRS, ASSEMBLE!
Six distinguished professionals have served as VES Board Chair over the past 25 years, shepherding the VES’s impressive roster of programs and initiatives in conjunction with staff and Section managers. VFX Voice gathered all the chairs, with VES Executive Director Eric Roth, to share some reflections and insights. This small club of esteemed volunteer VES leaders includes: Jim Morris, VES – President, Pixar Animation Studios (and Founding VES Chair); Carl Rosendahl – Distinguished Professor of Practice and Director of the Entertainment Technology Center’s Silicon Valley campus; Jeffrey A. Okun, VES – renowned visual effects supervisor; Jeff Barnes – Executive Vice President, Creative Development, Light Field Lab; Mike Chambers, VES – acclaimed visual effects producer and consultant; and Lisa Cooke – animation and VFX producer.
Morris: The origin story: In the late ’90s, all of the studios were rolling into VFX and there was tremendous momentum, but we often felt like second-class citizens. The timing felt right to teach the industry about what we do, improve our standing and find a form for honoring the contributors to our industry. Building relationships among artists and practitioners was essential to our business, and so there was great support and acceptance to share our experiences and elevate our craft. Bringing VFX to the forefront and being part of the VES’s genesis – and this esteemed group – is a great point of pride for me.
Rosendahl: In taking the mantle from Jim, who helped realize the foundational vision for the Society, I focused on building the infrastructure… the processes and procedures that would help us mature from our infancy into a stable and sustainable organization. I was tasked with heading our recruiting committee, which ultimately brought on Eric Roth as Executive Director. Now 18 years in his tenure, I see hiring Eric as one of my biggest accomplishments.
Okun: The Awards show was really Jim’s baby… and it was a journey getting to that first show, with 350 people at the Skirball Center, to where we are today. Little known fact: we crowd-sourced the design of the award itself. One of our members came up with the Georges Méliès moon face idea, and here’s what’s unique – the back of the award is the back of a set with chicken wire and the whole thing lights up. Our award won an award for awards! What’s most gratifying is walking into the room on Awards Show night and seeing the mass of people who are genuinely excited to be there in celebration of their peers as we honor every vertical we can think of. And on serving as VES Chair – it’s a life-changer, and Jim and Carl were absolute lifelines.
Morris: I’m so glad we’ve had the opportunity to honor some of our pioneers in our early years of the show, like Lynwood Dunn and Ray Harryhausen. I have vivid memories of us then coming together to lobby the Mayor of Hollywood to get Ray a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Our show continues to be that beacon where VFX talent get their deserved moment in the spotlight. I’m so excited to attend our 20th Awards show this year – it gives me goosebumps!
Chambers: That rally around Ray Harryhausen is actually what inspired the Hall of Fame. While we had the Awards Show in place to honor our contemporaries, so many formative people that had passed on needed to be remembered. A lot of things came to fruition under my watch: the Hall of Fame, launching VFX Voice magazine, and certainly an explosion of global expansion, but everything was a team effort and built on what came before. What guided me when I came into this role was our mission and how could I help us continue to foster education and build recognition for the practitioners all across the industry. Over time, we have evolved into a more inclusive organization. COVID was a left turn, and yet we have been supportive and resilient during the pandemic, so adept at creating remarkable virtual programming and finding ways to keep us all tethered across the globe. We keep getting better, and that’s testament to all of our volunteer leaders and every one of our members.
Barnes: I love being around creative people, and the Society is the pinnacle when it comes to conveying outstanding professionals and using our collective resources to advance our work. When I came on as Chair, I was feeling a sense of responsibility in hiring people for my company and growing a business, and I was aiming to set some precedent and considerations that might help protect them and enhance their professional life. Providing that kind of value was and is really important to me, and I’m proud of the work not only as board member and Chair, but also as a member.
Cooke: Mike, yours were very big shoes to fill. Essentially, I inherited a beautiful, well-built house, but I didn’t have to build the house. The support among this special group who know what’s possible and how to make things happen has been invaluable. I’m proud to be the first woman in this role, and I’m committed to lifting up our future leaders so that I’m not the last.
Chambers: Our determination to outreach to all corners of the globe and to all of the disciplines across the VFX spectrum has definitely yielded us a very rich, talented membership, and that commitment to diversity will continue to be a driving force of the organization. And bottom line, more than just recognizing and honoring our history, we are actually making history for our industry… and we’re documenting it to create a powerful legacy that will endure.
Barnes: From the time that I joined to where the Society is today, it’s mind-blowing. We set out to raise the credibility and respect level of the visual effects community and shine a spotlight on the excellence of the artists and practitioners. And the extent to which that has happened is undeniable. Membership continues to skyrocket, and our magazine and awards show are acclaimed… and so our ability to have an influence gives us a great platform to keep innovating.
Okun: It’s the VES that draws the passion and respect out of people and invests it back into the Society and our industry. I may be biased, but the VES is the gold standard. The volunteerism that fuels our work, at every level, is amazing, and the new voices and new talents who are stepping up to help shape our future encourage me.
Rosendahl: The VES has played a vital role as an industry convener, providing forums for education and skills development, and in prompting conversations around the complexities of our rapidly evolving global marketplace. We have the aptitude to keep focused on how the industry adapts and innovates and can help shape that landscape, while we build capacity among our members to foster their success.
Cooke: When I took on this role, I wanted to delve into who the Sections are, so I’ve been on a global Zoom tour, listening in to keep building a sense of community that is a true reflection of our diverse industry. So much work is going on across the organization that fills me with pride and optimism. I’m enthusiastic about our Education Committee in developing programs to mentor young women and people of color and bring them into visual effects. That effort will only enhance our field for future generations. I’m proud that we will be introducing a Technology Award into the Awards program and of the work of our Archives Committee in capturing and preserving interviews with our VFX pioneers and luminaries. And I’m immensely gratified by the work of our Health and Wellbeing Committee, which has developed amazing resources to support our members, personally and professionally, including our new Member Assistance Program available to our members worldwide 24/7. These are the investments and benefits that make being a part of the Society so meaningful.
Okun: When VFX took the leap on the shoulders of the greats in the ’50s/’60s/’70s and the team on Star Wars – the rubber band that kicked us into orbit – that’s when the magic of VFX became a community of magicians. I begged to join the Society when it was formed, because that’s where the dark arts convened to share the real stories – and still do. We are pivotal to every aspect of the entertainment industry, and there is not a single image that we don’t touch. Our ongoing work to command the respect equal to our contributions is vital and makes a huge difference.
Morris: The esprit de corps, the camaraderie, the authentic sense of community at the center of everything we do, is why we have accomplished so much together our first 25 years… and here’s to the next 25!