Golden Compass: First Flop to win VFX Oscar in Nearly a Decade

Visual Effect Academy Awards™ are not much different from any other category in at least one respect: great performances in films that underperform at the box office tend to be overlooked. I and many others thought that Transformers had this year’s visual effects Oscar™ all sewn up not only because the work was amazing – not just the amazingly complex 3D animation but some really fantastic compositing. Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (on which this author contributed a few shots) was clearly not going to win as that would break an Oscar taboo: the repeat winner (since Pirates 2 took a statue only last year).

And yet, nearly as much of a long-shot seemed to be The Golden Compass simply because the film was a flop, and Hollywood is allergic to losing money (despite many examples to the contrary) – this despite that many in the visual effects community believe it contained the most ground-breaking work, raising the bar for complex interactions between computer generated creatures (realistic looking daemons, the animals representing the soul/anima of the human characters) and recreating grand scenes of steam-punk London and Oxford and grand vistas of the Arctic. Not since What Dreams May Come has a vfx film lost money at the box office and taken the statue.

Perhaps Hollywood’s love of giving the prize to anyone but ILM – who along with the 49ers were the bay area force no one could beat in the 80’s and early 90’s – trumped the box office vote. However it happened, a great visual effects film (albeit a failed re-telling of one of the best novels of the past decade) won.

Mark Christiansen

Mark Christiansen

Author of After Effects Compositing series at; founder of New Scribbler LLC, developer of Cinefex for iPad; Adobe Press author, VFX artist on major motion pictures including Avatar and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End