“Rings” Won’t Face “Matrix” in Oscar F/X Race

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences announced Friday the seven films vying for an Oscar nomination in the Achievement in Visual Effects for the 76th Academy Awards. The list includes favorite The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but The Matrix sequels were conspicuously left off the list.

The seven films, their visual effects supervisor and the lead effects shops behind each production are:

The Hulk (Dennis Muren; ILM)

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook, Alex Funke; Weta)

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Stefen Fangmeier, Nathan McGuinness; ILM, Asylum Effects)

Peter Pan (Scott Farrar; Digital Domain, Sony Pictures Imageworks, ILM)

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (John Knoll; ILM)

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (Pablo Helman; ILM)

X2: X-Men United (Mike Fink; Cinesite)

According to Variety, the lead effects houses on each flick will compile a 15-minute reel of scenes from the films and organize a presentation to be delivered at what the effects industry affectionately calls a “bakeoff” on Jan. 21. The 200 members of the visual effects award nominating committee will vote after presentations are made. The final nominees will be named Jan. 27, when the 76th Academy Award nominations are announced live in Los Angeles at 5:30 a.m. PST/8:30 a.m. EST.

As in previous years, Industrial Light & Magic dominated as the lead effects facility, Variety reports. London-based Cinesite was recognized for X2, while Weta Digital and Weta Workshop in New Zealand garnered a nod for The Return of the King.

“It’s really good for morale,” Jim Morris, prexy of Lucas Digital, which oversees ILM told Variety. “Because the selection committee is made up of the top guys in the industry, it makes people feel validated for all the work they did. It’s a nice acknowledgement of our work from a highly respected group of people.”

Although Big Fish, The Haunted Mansion and The Cat in the Hat didn’t make the cut, the exclusion of a Matrix sequel surprised those in the industry, as well as the film’s distributor, Warner Bros., as the list made the rounds Friday, Variety reports. Warner Bros. had only submitted The Matrix Revolutions for consideration, rather than risk submitting both and having one cancel the other out. The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions had a combined effects budget of over $100 million.

The first Matrix won the Oscar for visual effects in 1999, breaking new ground with its “bullet time” sequences, but a potential showdown between one of its sequels and the third Lord of the Rings installment was expected this year. The Rings trilogy’s first two installments won the visual effects Oscar in 2002 and 2003.

While committee members would not reveal how they made their selections, Variety reports they are asked to base their decisions on technique, execution, creative use of existing technology, the extent of innovation and whether it pushed the boundaries of visual effects. The seven films that made the list represent all areas of the effects biz–from physical shots created on-set, such as stunts and miniatures, to CGI visuals, including digital characters, digital stunt doubles and matte paintings.