The Oscars’ Shade On VFX Artists Isn’t Cool

Actors in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Actors run the Oscars. Not only are actors the largest branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, making up just over 15% of its membership; actors are, the odd Spielberg appearance notwithstanding, the people who present the Academy Awards. To be fair, they’re the faces TV audiences know, and they’re probably going to be better at presenting than other filmmakers. But as demonstrated Sunday, sometimes actors (and show producers) stray too close to the edge of disrespect for the sake of a laugh.

If you didn’t see the show: Corden and Wilson presented the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, dressed as their characters from Cats - which, as he told Variety on the red carpet, was Corden's idea. “As cast members of the movie Cats,” they said, “nobody more than us understands the importance of good visual effects” - an obvious dig at the film’s VFX, its most immediately obvious surface-level flaw. The pair then proceeded to present the award normally - as normally as one can when dressed as furries.

Being handed an Academy Award by a pair of buffoons dressed in ridiculous costumes can’t feel great. But worse, Corden and Wilson beat up on the very craft they were addressing, even blaming the failure of their own film on that craft. While inconsistent, the VFX are by no means the film’s biggest issue, and Corden and Wilson’s smarmy, low-effort, Razzie-nominated performances leave them in no place to criticise. But even if Skimbleshanks Himself delivered the award, the Oscars are intended to celebrate filmmaking craft - not to denigrate it.

The Visual Effects Society agrees, and issued a statement yesterday saying as much. The salient paragraph reads thus:

Last night, in presenting the Academy Award for Outstanding Visual Effects, the producers chose to make visual effects the punchline, and suggested that bad VFX were to blame for the poor performance of the movie CATS.  The best visual effects in the world will not compensate for a story told badly.

Visual effects often become the scapegoat for bad filmmaking, especially in blockbusters full of VFX. It’s easier to spot bad effects shots than bad directing or editing. Often though, bad visual effects are more a result of poor communication, unrealistic scheduling, or a flawed workflow than of poor craftsmanship. This was certainly the case with Cats, on which VFX artists laboured long overtime hours and in many cases got laid off at the end of the year for their trouble. Given the outrageous circumstances handed them, they did incredible work. Hell, one of the studios involved in making VFX Oscar winner 1917, MPC, literally also worked on Cats.

This isn’t the first time Corden and Wilson have made jokes at the expense of their movie. Wilson joked at the BAFTAs that she had come from “the funeral for the movie Cats,” while Corden claims he hasn't seen the film but “heard it’s terrible.” Those jokes are fine; bad movies happen, Cats was a massive failure, and the actors want to move on. But in badmouthing the VFX artists - many of whom are out of a job now - they smarmily passed the buck onto an entire industry, all for the sake of a gag. It's one thing to self-deprecate, but deprecating others is a bad look.

This also isn’t the first time a craft has been treated insincerely at the Oscars; see Ben Stiller presenting Best Makeup in full Na’vi getup in 2010, or Best Visual Effects in a green-screen suit in 2006. It wasn’t even the only time it happened during this year’s show. While I’m sure Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss' presentation was intended to mock the cliche of actors being dismissive toward crafts, their confusing of cinematographers and editors with PAs and craft services (which don't deserve scorn either) ended up cheapening the awards.

The acting awards are always treated with the utmost glamour. Why shouldn't the crafts? Nobody pretends not to know what actors do for the sake of a gag. The craftspeople working the less attention-grabbing jobs on productions are constantly viewed as interchangeable, nameless grunts at these shows. No, effects artists aren’t celebrities, and won’t stand up to the same name recognition that actors do; I also understand the desire to “spice up” the show. But craftspeople are human beings who put enormous amounts of energy and effort into their work, often under trying circumstances. Some respect would be appreciated.

Yes - even for Cats.