The Oscars are no stranger to controversy. From accusations of racism to movie fans upset that their favourite didn’t get nominated, it feels like there’s something to complain about every single year. This year, it’s the Marvel Cinematic Universe fans who think that Chloe Zhao’s Eternals was snubbed for the award for Best Visual Effects. This is despite two other MCU properties, Shang-Chi and Spider-Man: No Way Home being nominated for that very award. It’s in good company, alongside Dune, Free Guy and No Time to Die but some MCU fans feel like Eternals deserved a spot more than its fellow installments. This is an entire discussion in itself, and that’s without mentioning those who feel like No Way Home should have been nominated for Best Picture. However, this isn’t an article about fandom squabbles, it’s about visual effects and how under-appreciated they are.
The realm of visual effects has changed drastically over the past several decades. Where once practical, on-set effects were king, there is now a sea of green screens and wires. This isn’t to say that one medium is better than the other, they both have their pros and cons, rather that one seems to be more prevalent than the other. Indeed, in the case of Spider-Man: No Way Home, there are many backgrounds being composited onto green screens, especially during fight sequences as well as several characters who are fully CG. The job of the Visual Effects artists is to blend the line between realities, and in a perfect scenario to make their work unnoticeable. It’s a particularly difficult job and one that requires a wealth of skill but we do not currently live in a reality where their work can be seamless. We’re close, oh so very close, but even if the technology was capable, the artists aren’t given enough time.
As with any animation sector, visual effects artists are drastically over-worked. The videogame industry has come under fire this past year for “Crunch Time” which is the term given when artists don’t have the time required to complete their jobs. They often work late hours and aren’t always paid for the entirety of their time. Sadly, this is also prevalent in Visual Effects. The Sonic the Hedgehog movie was essentially rebuilt from the ground up when fans campaigned to change the iconic characters’ design, which ultimately led to that Visual Effects company going bankrupt. This is a worst-case scenario, not present in Spider-Man: No Way Home, but it’s important to make note of when talking about this end of the industry. The award for Best Visual Effects is an amazing thing to be nominated for but it can feel largely symbolic when Visual Effects are the punching bag of the industry. When James Corden and Rebel Wilson presented this very award at last year’s ceremony, they did so whilst ribbing the supposedly poor quality of CGI in Cats. It’s unfair to judge the work put into a near-impossible task over a short amount of time, yet it happens again and again.
Despite the Visual Effects for No Way Home being outstanding, the naysayers remain. They would rather focus on the slight lack of shading and texture in Spider-Man costumes, than the hundred other aspects that were close to perfect. Never mind that there were 2 entirely CG characters, that there were countless effect overlays for superpowers, or that the Manhattan skyline is everpresent despite being keyed in. There should be no doubt that No Way Home deserves to be nominated for this award. The visual effects artists should be getting showered with praise instead of having their talents doubted. Unfortunately, it is but a signifier of the larger under-appreciation at work.
To everyone who has worked in visual effects, this year or any other, know that there are those who admire and appreciate you. Thank you for bringing your talents and imagination to the screen. Hollywood literally would not be the same without you.