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A Bluffer's Guide To The Oscars Technical Categories
AKA 'What the heck is Sound Mixing when it’s at home?'

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To some, the Academy Awards are divided into “the big ones” (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, etc) and the ones where they stepped out to make tea. Not us, though, and not you. The artists and artisans on the other side of the camera – the crème de la crème of VFX artistry, sound and editing – may not be household names, but their achievements justly comprise half of the showpiece event. But how do they get there? And who votes for them? Well, if Best Sound Mixing makes you think of Grandmaster Flash and an “Oscar bake-off” conjures images of a cake made from the contents of Sesame Street’s bin, this handy guide should guide you through Sunday’s technical categories.

WORDS PHIL DE SEMLYEN
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BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Iron Man 3

What is it? A catch-all term that includes practical (i.e. Gravity’s rigs) and visual effects (i.e. Gravity’s CG work)

Year introduced: 1938 (as ‘Special Effects’); 1977 (as ‘Visual Effects’)

2014 Nominees:

  • Gravity (Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk, Neil Corbould)
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, R. Christopher White)
  • Iron Man 3 (Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash, Dan Sudick)
  • The Lone Ranger (Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams, John Frazier)
  • Star Trek Into Darkness (Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann, Burt Dalton)

How does the voting work?
First, the Academy’s Visual Effects Branch Executive Committee Contenders got together and picked ten films that weren’t Philomena. Then the respective VFX teams pitched their wares to the 323-strong Visual Effects branch of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences (AMPAS), currently chaired by Raiders Of The Lost Ark veteran Craig Barron, in early January. Once their collective eyeballs had been popped by short sizzle reels and their brains engaged by five-minute pitches by Joe Letteri and his fellow VFX supes, a shortlist of five was settled upon. Elysium, Oblivion, Thor: The Dark World, Pacific Rim and World War Z were the unlucky few to miss the cut. The remaining five were put to the entire Academy, who had to cast their votes by February 25.

Favourite?
Gravity remains hotter than a piri-piri chicken re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, but Letteri and Weta Digital’s Smaug-heavy Hobbit pitch also won admirers at the bake-off.

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