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Montreal visual effects team celebrates 'Blade Runner 2049' Oscar nominations


A visual effects company from Montreal is celebrating its role in nabbing not just one Oscar nomination but three — thanks to eye-popping work on "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," "Kong: Skull Island" and "Blade Runner 2049."

Visual effects producer Adam O'Brien-Locke joked that his firm Rodeo has at least a 60 per cent chance of claiming a win at the splashy Academy Awards bash on March 4.

O'Brien-Locke noted that only studio supervisors are named in the nominations, and none of them are Canadian. But he said most of the 80 people from Rodeo that worked on "Blade Runner 2049" are homegrown. 

The film was helmed by Quebec director Denis Villeneuve, who was quick to heap praise on his Canadian colleagues, some of whom he's known his entire career.

"I'm deeply happy this morning. I said to my family: 'I will celebrate if we got five.' And so I did celebrate," Villeneuve beamed Tuesday during a conference call from Montreal.

"I celebrated this morning for all those people from Canada that were part (of the film)."

The dark sci-fi epic, starring Canadian Ryan Gosling as a Los Angeles police officer in a dystopian future, scored five nominations overall.

The only Canadian actually named in the film's nominations is Vancouver-born Dennis Gassner, up for best production design along with set decorator Alessandra Querzola.

The film also scored nominations for best visual effects, best cinematography, best sound editing, and best sound mixing.

Villeneuve admitted to feeling disappointed his futuristic stunner did not land a best picture or best director nomination, despite being embraced by critics when it was released last fall. He suspected it was because the film fared poorly at the U.S. box office.

"I'm disappointed, that's the truth, but my hopes were very small because the fact that the movie didn't do well at the United States box office ... that was not a good omen," he said.

"The movie is a kind of hybrid, it's half art-house movie, half a blockbuster. Those movies are not being made anymore. It's a kind of strange object and we have both feet in this so we were judged in both fields at the same time, so that's why I will say we didn't get a nomination."

Still, Villeneuve was happy to see his Canadian colleagues draw Oscar attention.

"The people who started Rodeo are people I started to work with when I was starting to make movies," said Villeneuve, noting that president Sebastien Moreau did the effects on his short films, as well as his Oscar-nominated "Incendies," the psychological thriller "Enemy," and the alien drama "Arrival."

"It's a company that is still growing, they are fantastic artists ... I love to have a tradition of working with people that I (started with). The years pass by and you see your friends are evolving, I'm very proud of that."

O'Brien-Locke said Rodeo is one of about 10 visual effects companies that worked on "Blade Runner 2049," which also included work from the Montreal office of the Brit-based VFX company Framestore.

He added that it was an especially gratifying project, noting it took a year to complete.

"Seeing the project evolve from green screens to where it ended is always a unique experience for the team and everyone is quite proud to have been a part of it."

The Montreal firm has exploded since O'Brien-Locke joined five years ago, and he credited much of that growth to the power of Oscar attention. He joined the year the company worked on "Birdman," which went on to win the best picture prize in 2015.

"From there we had 75 artists and now we're at almost 450 people.... One can say probably from that project it helped us get our name out there. Our collaborations on 'Game of Thrones' as well has a huge impact in the accolades we've received," he added, noting they've worked on seasons 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the HBO/TMN series, scoring three Emmys along the way.

"From that (we're) getting more artists, more people to talk about us — a Canadian company, a Quebecois company starting from three people in a basement to now 450 people."

With six nominations now under his belt, the L.A.-based Gassner is a relative veteran when it comes to Oscar races, but he said the honour never gets old.

"I'm feeling great, I've been doing this a long time, it's still a privilege to have your peers nominate you," said Gassner, whose family moved to Portland when he was five.

"It just kind of reinforces a lot of the things that I've been doing for 35 years, keeping the energy going to create something that's unique."

Gassner studied architecture but was enamoured with film. He moved to L.A. to pursue his dream and his first gig was a doozy: as an assistant production designer on "Apocalypse Now."

From there, he racked up dozens more credits, including Oscar nominations for his work on "Into the Woods," "The Golden Compass," "Road to Perdition," "Barton Fink," and "Bugsy," which he won.

Gassner said "Blade Runner 2049" was an especially tough project.

"Everybody felt a huge weight on their shoulder," he said. 

"We must not forget that it was a massive challenge and very arrogant to want to try to do a followup to the first movie and I think we did. Everybody gave their best."

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

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