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Dune's Vancouver VFX wizards take home Oscars

VFX supervisors Tristan Myles, Brian Connor and Paul Lambert win big at the Academy Awards
DNEG Vancouver's team created giant sandworms and dragon fly-like aircraft for the sci-fi blockbuster Dune, which ultimately brought home another Oscar for the studio | DNEG

Three more Oscar trophies will soon be decorating homes in Vancouver after the visual effects team behind sci-fi blockbuster Dune won the industry’s top prize Sunday night.

Double Negative Ltd. (DNEG) VFX supervisors Tristan Myles and Brian Connor, along with fellow Vancouverite and former DNEG VFX supervisor Paul Lambert, took to the stage in Hollywood to celebrate the win in the Best Visual Effects category.

"Oh my goodness. Thank you to the members of the Academy for this amazing award," Lambert said in front of the star-filled audience.

"The effects is a team effort of hundreds of people around the world. So huge congratulations to all the artists and production from DNEG, Wylie Co. and Rodeo FX."

Myles went on to thank his family and "... of course, the outstanding work from all the artists at DNEG."

The VFX wizards brought photorealistic creations of ancient desert palaces, giant sandworms and dragonfly-like fighter planes to the silver screen last October as COVID-19 concerns were keeping many from visiting cinemas.

The film, directed by Canadian Denis Villeneuve, went on to gross more than US$400 million at the box office globally and now has a sequel in the works.

Crisscrossing Talent

Germany’s Gerd Nefzer, Dune’s special effects supervisor, also took to the stage with the Vancouver-based trio to accept an Oscar for his own work on the film.

He was briefly cut off by the orchestra before being allowed to exclaim, "Danke schoen!" 

Visual effects created at DNEG’s Vancouver studios in Mount Pleasant previously landed Academy Awards for Lambert and Myles back in 2019 for the Neil Armstrong biopic First Man, starring Canadian Ryan Gosling.

The Vancouver team also worked on Blade Runner 2049, which Lambert and Nefzer won Oscars for in 2018.

Villeneuve directed that sci-fi sequel, too, which Gosling also headlined. 

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DNEG’s Montreal team contributed to some of the work on Dune, however, none of the VFX talent from Villeneuve’s home province received Oscar nominations.

Dune had been racking up award after award for visual effects in the lead-up to the Oscars, including four from the Visual Effects Society and one from the prestigious EE British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA).

Major Expansion

U.K.-headquartered DNEG has about 570 workers based in B.C. as of 2021.

It revealed plans back in August to hire workers for a new feature animation studio in the city amid efforts to expand significantly across Canada.

This came as DNEG’s parent company, Prime Focus Ltd., secured a US$250-million equity investment from Novator Capital Advisers earlier that summer. 

With the new capital in hand, the VFX company also embarked on launching a new studio in Toronto as well as expanding its Montreal office.

The Toronto studio will employ up to 200 workers, while up to 300 additional workers are set to be split between Vancouver and Montreal. The exact split between those latter two offices has not been set in stone.

The B.C. hiring plans encompass both the new animation studio, where as many as 100 animators are to be based, as well as at the existing VFX studio.

“It’s a pretty mature market, and so the talent in Vancouver really is top notch,” DNEG Animation president Tom Jacomb told BIV last September.

“And that’s what we’re really looking to tap.”

Plans to raise even more capital emerged this past January when DNEG announced it would go public via a deal with special acquisition company (SPAC) Sports Ventures Acquisition Corp. (Nasdaq:AKIC).

The SPAC deal, which is expected to close before the end of September, values DNEG at about US$1.7 billion.

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