the studio gate

the backlot

the screening room
The Screening Room


This isn't a typical story about the coverage of the annual Visual Effects Society Awards. If I may, I'm going to talk in first person. I feel it's the best way to describe what went on during the awards. The story does focus on Steven Spielberg, so I hope I'm not offending the very deserving nominees and winners of the VES Awards. I promise I will talk about you, too! Without the hard working men and women of the VES, we wouldn't have spectacular effects in movies, television, and video games. But without Spielberg's love of visual effects and fantasy in many of his films, who knows where visual effects would be today without his touch.

In covering the Visual Effects Society Awards for the past couple of years now, I've had the opportunity to meet many of the top filmmakers and artists in film today. Although it's true that talents like George Lucas, John Lasseter, Dennis Muren, Harrison Ellenshaw, Richard Taylor, and Richard Edlund are human like the rest of us, there is no denying how immensely gifted they are. I've known or have met these individuals, and once over the initial "oh my god, it's...," and normal jitters one gets when meeting their idols, it still amazes me how they can create new worlds never seen before, or entertain.

To my own surprise, the presence of Steven Spielberg at the VES Awards to accept the Lifetime Acheivement Award this year didn't make me nervous. I should've been petrified. Spielberg is the most successful director of all-time, having made so many hits and so many critically acclaimed films, it's not really necessary for me to repeat their titles here. He, along with George Lucas, transformed how we see and hear movies. Spielberg also started a studio, DreamWorks. He's worked with both past and current talents in acting and behind-the-camera. He's an honorary knight in the British Empire. He's politically connected. He is, in my mind, one of the most blessed individuals on the planet. Not only is he a genius filmmaker and storyteller, he's had an extraordinary life so far. Not bad for a kid who grew up in suburbia with a movie camera in his hand.

I thought I'd be a nervous wreck covering the show as not only a reporter for this site, but also as the "official photographer" of the awards. I was fortunate enough to have been chosen to have all-access. Would I be so nervous in the presence of Spielberg that I wouldn't do my job well? Would I trip over my tongue and be speechless in asking Mr. Spielberg for his photograph?  I had pretty much grown up with Spielberg's films. He was one of my childhood film idols. I won't lie and say I've loved or liked every single film or production he's been involved in, but most of his work is great. So to be able to just photograph Spielberg was an honor. Yes, he's human, but damn, he's Spielberg for God's sake!

In the back of my mind, I pictured Steven Spielberg arriving with an entourage of body guards. I pictured him as tall and walking with tons of confidence. I also pictured adoring fans, even if they were members of the VES, swarming him just to shake his hand, or get his picture, or ask for his autograph.

At the VES Awards, he was nothing like that. No bodyguards were present. Adoring fans kept a respectful distance from him, save for a few people who got the courage to walk up to him. He was cordial and smiling as he spoke with them. Is he tall? I'd say he's a little shorter than I am, and I'm average height. Confident? Totally confident, but sincere and kind. Was I still nervous? Actually, I was calmer than I have ever been meeting a superstar talent. I had a job to do, after all.

My first up-close picture of Spielberg would be with ILM's Dennis Muren and visual effects icon, Douglas Trumbull. Since Spielberg was speaking to someone when I approached him, I asked Dennis if it would be okay to get a shot of all three of them. I didn't want to be rude, but I still needed (wanted) to get some pictures of these three together. Dennis, who is a really nice guy to begin with, said, "Sure. Steven? Can we get a picture together?" Steven said, "Sure!" And that was that (please see picture below).

I wasn't the only person at the Kodak who was in awe of Spielberg. Some of the biggest names in visual effects and games were a bit reluctant just to go up to Spielberg and say "hi." I thought this was really "cool" that these talents, with endless credits in popular films and games of their own, were humble in his presence. That's respect. In fact, all night long, most of the presenters starting with John Knoll, told of their sincere respect and admiration for Spielberg. In all the awards shows I've seen or been to in filmmaking, this was astounding in the amount of people who gave their respect to one person.

Spielberg received his Lifetime Achievement Award from Dennis Muren, which was fitting. They've collaborated on numerous films over the years, breaking the boundaries of what can be put up on the big screen. I can't say that I remember everything Spielberg said in his speech. After all, I was shooting a lot of shots of him and concentrating on getting good pictures. But I can say that it seemed that he respected those individuals who helped make his directorial visions come to life. Respect in return from Spielberg.     
It didn't dawn on my until I got home and into bed how fortunate I was in being at this year's awards. I actually met, and in a semi-sort-of-way, "directed" Mr. Spielberg. Okay, it was more along the lines of, "One more picture please." This caused me not to fall asleep for a while that night. It was like meeting Santa Claus when you're a kid, or meeting a baseball hero. You're simply in awe.

I went through the names that were in that ballroom. Pardon me for name dropping, but it's a very impressive roster. Spielberg. Muren. Knoll. Edlund. Ellenshaw. Trumbull. Bay. Carpenter. Barron. Morris. Letteri.
You may not know all of their names by heart, but these guys are wizards in their craft, and you've most likely seen their work. Billion-dollar makers? Yes. Visual effects icons. Yup. Amazing artists? Most certainly.

What makes the VES dear to my own heart, besides having become friends with some of the members over the years, is how low key nearly everyone is. There are occasions when someone of Spielberg's caliber comes along to the show. Yet almost everyone I've met in the VES is nice, and no matter how talented they are, they don't let it get to their head.

So without anymore long-winded talk from me, here are the winners from the 6th Annual VES Awards. Because of the enormous amount of pictures taken at the show, I've limited the amount of shots on this page. If you're interested in the show's pictures, please contact me @:


Congratulations to all of the nominees and winners. The work you do is extraordinary. And thanks to Mr. Spielberg for being patient all night as I took pictures, many times with an auto-focus beam shining on him!

Visual Effects in a Visual Effects Driven Motion Picture
Scott Farrar
Shari Hanson
Russell Earl
Scott Benza

Supporting Visual Effects in a Motion Picture
Michael Fong
Apurva Shah
Christine Waggoner
Michael Fu

Visual Effects in a Broadcast Miniseries, Movie or Special
"Battlestar Galactica – Razor"
Mike Gibson
Gary Hutzel
Sean Jackson
Pierre Drolet

Visual Effects in a Broadcast Series
"Fight for Life – Episode 4"
Philip Dobree
Nicola Instone
Marco Iozzi
Matt Chandler

Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program
Rome 2 – Episode 6 – "Philippi"
James Madigan
Barrie Hemsley
Duncan Kinnard
Gary Brozenich

Visual Effects in a Commercial
Smirnoff "Sea"
William Bartlett
Scott Griffin
Dan Seddon
David Mellor

Best Single Visual Effect of the Year
"Transformers" (Desert highway sequence)
Scott Farrar
Shari Hanson
Shawn Kelly
Michael Jamieson

Real Time Visuals in a Video Game
Halo 3
Marcus Lehto
Jonty Barnes
Stephen Scott
CJ Cowan

Pre-Rendered Visuals in a Video Game
"World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade"
Jeff Chamberlain
Scott Abeyta

Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project
"Sea Monsters"
Sean Phillips
Jack Geist
Robin Aristorenas
Mark Dubeau

Animated Character in a Live Action Motion Picture
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" (Davy Jones)
Hal Hickel
Marc Chu
Jakub Pistecky
Maia Kayser

Animated Character in an Animated Motion Picture
"Ratatouille" (Colette)
Janeane Garofalo
Jamie Landes
Sonoko Konishi
Paul Aichele

Animated Character in a Live Action Broadcast Program or Commercial
Chemical Brothers "Salmon Dance"
Nicklas Andersson
Mike Mellor
Sylvain Marc
Florent DeLa Taille

Effects in an Animated Motion Picture
"Ratatouille" (food)
Jon Reisch
Jason Johnston
Eric Froemling
Tolga Göktekin

Created Environment in a Live Action Motion Picture
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" (the Maelstrom)
Frank Losasso Petterson
Paul Sharpe
Joakim Arnesson
David Meny

Created Environment in a Live Action Broadcast Program or Commercial
"Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee"
Phi Tran
Matthew Lee
Martin Hilke
Justin Mitchell

Models or Miniatures in a Motion Picture
Dave Fogler
Ron Woodall
Alex Jaeger
Brian Gernand

Models or Miniatures in a Broadcast Program or Commercial
"Halo 3/Believe Campaign"
Matthew Gratzner
Alan Scott
Seth Curlin
Greg Boettcher

The awards were held on February 10, 2008, at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, CA.


Steven Spielberg arrives

Dennis Muren ("War of the Worlds")

Brad Bird ("Rataouille")

Harrison Ellenshaw ("Tron")

Megan Fox ("Transformers")

John Knoll ("Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End")

(left-to-right) VES Executive Director Eric Roth, actor Patton Oswalt ("Ratatouille"), and VES Chair Jeff Barnes

Director Michael Bay ("Transformers")

Movie titans (left-to-right) Dennis Muren, Steven Spielberg and Douglas Trumbull

The Roth Family

EA Games table

(left) Jim Morris of Pixar

(top, left-to-right) Harrison Ellenshaw, Eric Roth (bottom, left-to-right) Jeff Barnes, Chuck Finance, Kim Lavery and Don Waller

Steven Spielberg talks to Joe Letteri & Jay Russell ("The Water Horse")

Jerry Schmitz (Sony Animation) and Ellen Pasternack, PR Person Extraordinaire

Raulette Woods ("Tron") and Richard Taylor (EA Games)

Patton Oswalt (Remy in "Ratatouille") and Brad Bird (writer/director "Ratatouille")

"The Water Horse" visual effects team

Director Jay Russell and Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri ("The Water Horse")

Harrison Ellenshaw gives an eloquent speech about Steven Spielberg

Spielberg reacts to Ellenshaw's speech

The beautiful Megan Fox

Douglas Trumbull worked with Spielberg on "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"

Michael Bay has helmed many visual effects movies over the years

Visual effects supervisor Mike Fink ("The Golden Compass")

Muren describes working with Spielberg over the years

Muren is a multiple Oscar-winner and receipient of the VES Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007

Spielberg accepts the VES Lifetime Achievement Award

Spielberg must have a whole room dedicated just to the awards he's won!

The master director gives kudos to all of the visual effects artists in the ballroom

Hard to believe that Ellenshaw, who worked with George Lucas on "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back," and whose own father is the legendary Peter Ellenshaw, and is one hell of a visual effects supervisors and matte painter, hasn't worked with Spielberg!  Imagine the possibilities!

Partners in visual effects crime, Richard Taylor ("Tron") and Harrison Ellenshaw ("Tron")

Special thanks to Jason Grimley, Kim Lavery, Raulette Woods, Harrison Ellenshaw, Ellen Pasternack, and Dennis Muren 
Photos by Bill Kallay © 2008. All rights reserved.