LOS ANGELES – The art and craft of special effects can make viewers believe that alien invaders walk among us on Falling Skies or add the Atlantic City shoreline to a New York set for Boardwalk Empire.
One result is fantastic, the other is realistic, and the two are so different that it seems unfair they should compete for the same Emmy trophy – so they don’t have to, starting with today’s nominations.
The TV academy has transformed its visual effects honors this year with two new awards. Category 89 recognizes shows with magic at their core, such as the sci-fi saga Falling Skies, modern fairy tale Grimm or the monster mash of The Walking Dead.
Category 90, the other newcomer, is for imagery that plays a supporting role in a program not dependent on special visual effects to tell the story, according to academy guidelines.
Besides Boardwalk Empire, shows vying for that nomination include such other distinctly down-to-earth dramas as Mad Men, Downton Abbey and Game Change.
The revised approach is similar to one adopted in recent years by the Visual Effects Society, an international professional group.
We want to see recognition for creative work being done, but it’s hard to compare spaceships and aliens and castles and ogres to, say, a computer-generated period building, said Andrew Orloff, special effects supervisor for Zoic Studios, which counts Falling Skies, Mad Men and Magic City among its projects.
The new categories replace a pair of outdated ones, which had TV movies and miniseries competing in one longform group and all continuing series, whether genres like sci-fi or straight storytelling, in another.
The switch was driven in part by the steadily diminishing, but not vanished, presence of longform on TV.
I think that’s fair, because what’s on Falling Skies’ and Game of Thrones’ is on a high level of visual effects that does stand up to a miniseries, Orloff said.
The academy’s decision also acknowledges the growing use of subtler effects that are Hollywood’s version of trompe-l’oeil painting.
Boardwalk Empire used computer-generated imagery to make prohibition era-Atlantic City come alive. A set of that city’s Boardwalk circa 1920s, contained in a Brooklyn soundstage, was stretched by software. Technology also added water: the Atlantic Ocean.