Interactive Achievement Awards

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There  have been a lot of awards recently of interest to readers of this blog; I thought it would be useful to provide an overview, as well as covering some of the more obscure awards.

The Oscars are by far the most well-known awards, bestowed annually since 1929 by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Oscars are voted on by Academy voting members (who total about 6,000) in the relevant disciplines (e.g. directors vote for Best Director, actors for Best Actor, etc.). The Scientific and Technical Awards are especially notable; they are given in a separate ceremony in early February, two weeks before the main awards ceremony celeb-fest.

Although some of the Sci-Tech awards are still for “analog” stuff like camera mounts, lenses, and film emulsions, in recent times most of the honored developments have been digital. All except three of this year’s winners were for digital advances (the other three were for computer-controlled camera and prop cable suspension systems, so partially digital as well).

The most directly relevant award was for a development described in a SIGGRAPH paper (the 2004 paper, “An Approximate Global Illumination System for Computer Generated Films”, was even mentioned in the award text). The award was given to Eric Tabellion and Arnauld Lamorlette, “for the creation of a computer graphics bounce lighting methodology that is practical at feature film scale”. This technique (as described in the 2004 paper) is a fast one-bounce GI method that uses interesting approximations for both geometry and surface material. The paper is well worth reading; the technique was highly influential for film rendering and some of the ideas are relevant for real-time rendering as well.

Another computer graphics-related award was given to Dr. Mark Sagar “for his early and continuing development of influential facial motion retargeting solutions”. Dr. Sagar pioneered the use of the Facial Animation Coding System (FACS) for film production, starting with Monster House and supervising its use on King Kong and Avatar; this system is now widely used, with growing adoption by the game industry as well. Dr. Sagar also won an Academy Sci-Tech award last year, for his work on Light Stage.

As seen in the cable suspension case, Academy Sci-Tech awards tend to come in “clumps”. As a particular technology area is recognized as important by the Academy, several different groups who did important work in that area receive awards in one year. For example, a bunch of last year’s Sci-Tech awards were related to the digital intermediate (DI) process. The biggest “clump” this year was for another graphics-related topic: render queues (software used to manage render farms, the earliest  – and still most widespread in film production – form of parallel graphics processing):

The final computer graphics-related SciTech award was given to Tony Clark, Alan Rogers, Neil Wilson and Rory McGregor “for the software design and continued development of cineSync, a tool for remote collaboration and review of visual effects” (cineSync is developed and sold by Rising Sun Research).

Some of the main Academy Awards (announced in late February) are also of interest to readers of this blog; there’s a lot of information about these awards out there so I’ll just mention the winners for Visual Effects (Inception), Animated Feature Film (Toy Story 3), and Animated Short Film (The Lost Thing).

The closest video game equivalent to the Oscars are the Interactive Achievement Awards, bestowed annually by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences at the annual D.I.C.E. Summit in early February. Similarly to the Oscars, they are voted for by registered AIAS members, who must be working in the appropriate game development discipline to vote on a given award. This year’s awards of interest to readers of this blog include: Outstanding Achievement in Animation (God of War III), Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction (Red Dead Redemption), and Outstanding Achievement in Visual Engineering (Heavy Rain).

The Game Developers Choice Awards are also prestigious, and are bestowed at the annual Game Developers Conference (which takes place in late February or early March). One must be a registered member of the Gamasutra website (owned by United Business Media, which also owns the Game Developers Conference) to nominate or vote, and the advisory committee which oversees the process is chosen by the editors of Game Developer Magazine (also owned by United Business Media) and Gamasutra. The Game Developers Choice Awards are unusual in thus being managed by a for-profit corporation rather than a nonprofit professional organization. This year’s awards of interest: Best Technology (Red Dead Redemption), and Best Visual Arts (Limbo).

Regarding video game awards, one notable event that happened this year (on February 12th) was the first Grammy award for music composed for a video game. The Grammys don’t have a dedicated award for video game music – this award was for a song, Baba Yetu, originally composed by Christopher Tin for Civilization IV and released on the 2009 album Calling All Dawns (which itself won a Grammy in addition to the award for Baba Yetu).

The awards given by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) are almost as well-known in the UK as the Oscars are in the US. BAFTA gives awards for TV shows and video games as well as movies.

The British Academy Film Awards were held in mid-January. Awards of interest: Animated Film (Toy Story 3), Short Animation (The Eagleman Stag – which was stop-motion, not CG), and Special Visual Effects (Inception).

One of the British Academy Television Craft Awards was of interest: Visual Effects (The Day of the Triffids).

The British Academy Video Game Awards were held in mid-March. Awards of interest: Artistic Achievement (God of War III), and Technical Innovation (Heavy Rain). A minor controversy erupted after Red Dead Redemption did not win any awards – it turns out that it was not entered by the developers (Rockstar Games), most likely for reasons related to a perceived snub that Grand Theft Auto IV (also developed by Rockstar) received in the 2009 awards.

The last set of awards I will discuss are perhaps the most directly relevant for this blog, though not as well-known as the ones previously mentioned. The Visual Effects Society (VES) is a professional organization representing practitioners in visual effects and computer-generated animation for TV, film and video games. Among their other activities, they host the VES Awards every year in early February. Due to these awards’ focus, most of them are of interest – the full list can be found here. I’ll highlight some of the most interesting awards categories, but first I wanted to mention this year’s VES Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen is a giant in the field; his pioneering stop-motion effects work on many films, from Mighty Joe Young (1949) to Clash of the Titans (1981) inspired many of today’s most prominent filmmakers. I’ve been going through his films on recent weekends with the wife and kids; most of them are great fun and well worth seeing. I’m not sure why it took the VES nine years to recognize Harryhausen (even the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which snubbed him for the special effects Oscars throughout his career, finally awarded him the Gordon E. Sawyer Award in 1992).

This year’s VES video game award winners: Outstanding Real-Time Visual Effects in a Video Game (Halo: Reach; presented to Marcus Lehto, Joseph Tung, Stephen Scott, and CJ Cowan from Bungie – two clips related to the submission are available on YouTube: “work to be considered” clip, “before and after” clip), Outstanding Animated Character in a Video Game (StarCraft II – Sarah Kerrigan; presented to Fausto De Martini, Xin Wang, Glenn Ramos, and Scott Lange from Blizzard), Outstanding Visual Effects in a Video Game Trailer (World of Warcraft – for the Cataclysm cinematic; presented to Marc Messenger and Phillip Hillenbrand, Jr. from Blizzard).

Notable VES feature film-related awards: VES Visionary Award (Christopher Nolan), Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual-Effects Driven Feature Motion Picture (Inception), Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature Motion Picture (Hereafter), Outstanding Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture (How to Train Your Dragon), Outstanding Achievement in an Animated Short (Day & Night), Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 – Dobby), Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature Motion Picture (How to Train Your Dragon – Toothless), Outstanding Effects Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture (How to Train Your Dragon).

Recognition of exceptional work is an important part of the advancement of any professional field; it’s good to see that the field of computer graphics is so well-covered in this respect.

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