Avatar 2 sweeps major VFX awards: 'They are not faceless practitioners'

James Cameroon's sensation 'Avatar: The Way of Water,' secured nine awards in total.
Ameya Paleja
Screenshot from 'Avatar: The Way of Water,' official trailer.
Screenshot from 'Avatar: The Way of Water,' official trailer.


The Visual Effects Society (VES) Awards 2023 were held recently and saw James Cameroon's Avatar: The Way of Water sweep nine awards.

What is a bigger win for professionals engaged in the visual effects (VFX) industry is the announcement of a new category, New Emerging Technology.

"This cannot be the model to get the most and the best out of such talented artists," said former executive director of VES, Eric Roth, during the award ceremony, while referring to challenges faced by VFX artists.

"For those that don't understand this. They are not faceless practitioners. They are your greatest asset."

Roth said while thanking the audience full of visual artists applauding his 19 years of service to the VFX community, "you are part of an organization powered by volunteers doing the most extraordinary things in the most extraordinary ways."

"Isn't there some way we can tweak the business model?" he asked.

Founded in 1997, the VES is an organization that represents people engaged in the VFX industry. This includes not only the artists and animators but also technologists, studio makers, marketing specialists, as well as producers of films, music videos, and video games.

With VFX now becoming a routine part of most productions, the competition for these awards is getting intense. But so are ways how the technology can be improved, giving more scope for innovation.

Recognizing Emerging Tech

In a movie like Avatar which is filled with excellent VFX, it is hard to single out features that made it look good and believable. However, the jury team at VES slotted the various aspects of the VFX into different categories, and unsurprisingly, Avatar got nominated in most of them.

James Cameroon's sequel movie not only broke the record of 11 nominations that the first movie had created, but it also beat the previous best record of 13 nominations that was claimed by The Mandalorian in 2021.

Every bit of the VFX used in the movie was cutting-edge, whether it was for facial systems or the deep compositing of the graphics that ensures that all elements stay in the place they are supposed to be in. What really won everybody over was the water toolset which made every scene look real, and also won the award for the emerging tech category.

The technology used for the water simulations was developed back in 2017 and refined over the years to be used in the movie. The technologists took into consideration a whole array of factors, such as stress and surface tension and drag forces, and interactions with the surrounding air, to compute how the water molecules would behave in a particular shot.

It is this attention to detail that has gone into the toolset that has allowed characters to emerge from the water with realistic drips from their skin and clothes, as well as the turning of tiny droplets of rain into rivulets on characters' faces when standing in the rain possible.

The award, though, is not just for developing new technology. Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio was a stop-motion but turned to advanced 3D printing technology for its characters. While it might not have won the award, it clearly showed how older techniques could be modernized and brought into the mainstream again.

The Emerging Tech category hopes to encourage more such innovations in the future and bring us some great VFX in the future.

This piece contains information that appeared in Variety and Hollywood Reporter.

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