Times change, and so do Emmy special-effects honors
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 that they should compete for the same Emmy trophy — so they don’t have to, starting with Thursday’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.”
“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The new categories replace two outdated ones, which had TV movies and miniseries competing in one longform group and all continuing series, whether genres like sci-fi or straight storytelling, in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 presence of longform on TV. This time around, series such as “Game of Thrones” are competing with miniseries including “Titanic” and “Treasure Island” in the nominations hunt for September’s Emmy Awards.
“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 more subtle effects that are Hollywood’s version of trompe-l’oeil painting.
“Boardwalk Empire” used computer-generated imagery, or CGI, 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 to even more impressive lengths. Technology also added water: the Atlantic Ocean.