By NAOMI GOLDMAN
Visual Effects Society Executive Director Eric Roth has had a front row seat to the dynamic global VFX industry and a major role in the Society’s growth, serving at the helm of the organization’s staff for 18 years. VFX Voice sat down with Roth to get his perspectives as the Society celebrates its 25th Anniversary.
What stands out for you as key achievements in the evolution of the Society?
On one level, it’s the tangible elements and events that have become synonymous with the Society – our award-winning VFX Voice magazine, three editions of the VES Handbook of Visual Effects, developing extraordinary VES Awards shows, our VES Honors Program and Hall of Fame, and our volunteer Committees who do important work for our organization. But on a broader sense, it’s the continuing healthy growth of the organization in terms of membership and reach. When I assumed this role, we were about 750 people, mostly situated in California; now we have more than 4,000 members in over 40 countries and 14 Sections worldwide. We are a vibrant organization that truly embodies a great sense of worldwide community for our profession. That is what I’m most proud of.
One of the goals of the organization is to raise the profile, recognition and respect level of the visual effects industry – how are we doing in meeting those marks?
This pursuit has been one of the most dramatic efforts during my tenure. Right now, I think there is a common understanding across all sectors of entertainment that the industry’s biggest star is visual effects, which is reflected in the size of every show’s budget and what fans want to see. Hit after hit owes so much to the amazing artists who consistently deliver remarkable effects and imagery and make the impossible… possible. And as we keep forging ahead into streaming platforms and the demand for content is exploding, the future for VFX is seemingly limitless.
Tell us about the leadership of the VES Board over the years.
A huge blessing of my tenure has been working with our volunteer leaders serving on the Board in all capacities, and certainly the six people who have held the title of Chair – each of them singularly remarkable leaders. We strive to focus on issues of importance at the intersection of art, technology and business. The passion, knowledge and determination of these leaders to ensure the Society progresses have been essential as we work to represent the industry, the VFX craft and our membership.
At almost two decades as Executive Director, what does your VES legacy look like?
There are specific projects I want to see to fruition, and creating a VFX Digital Museum is at the top of my list. From interviews with luminaries to techniques and VFX props to befores/afters on awards submissions and our own rich history – I want to make sure these assets are preserved and available to our members and the rest of the world in a fun, accessible way. I also want to continue providing valuable benefits to support our members in their professional and personal lives, and our new Member Assistance Program providing health and lifestyle support 24/7 is the kind of programming I want to keep fostering. Ultimately, I’m now most interested in those projects that will stand the test of time so that my successors 30 years from now will look back and feel they have a strong foundation for the work and goals they want to achieve.
How has the VES innovated during the protracted pandemic?
With heads of the tech revolution and early adopters among our ranks, our industry pivoted quickly to tell stories in new and creative ways. And the Society shifted almost immediately into producing a wealth of online content, with dozens of dynamic webcasts and virtual events including a digital spin on the VES Awards. It was important that we maintain our traditions, while pushing the envelope of the pandemic’s constraints. The lessons we have learned to adapt and stay resilient have been invaluable.
We’re also coming up on the 20th Annual VES Awards. What is the magic of this annual event?
The VES Awards is a huge point of pride for me and my producing partner in crime Jeff Okun, as well as the VES Awards Committee, who work year-round to refine the Rules and Procedures that govern the Awards. The magic is the excitement and energy of the crowd. Every year, quieting the ballroom to start the show is a major feat, because people are so excited to be together, if only for one night. When I walk through the crowd and look at the audience from atop the stage, I feel like I am home with family.
What are some moments that stand out from these star-studded VES Awards?
So many. That time I flubbed Ridley Scott’s name and (then Fox Studios Chair) Jim Gianopulos stood up in the ballroom and called me out, mid-speech. Wafting in and out of greenroom conclaves between Jimmy Kimmel and Mark Hamill. Watching intimate moments, like Roger Corman swapping stories backstage with VES Board Chairs Jeff Okun and Mike Chambers. My annual shtick with our wonderful and sharp-tongued perennial host, Patton Oswalt. And moments that change our course, like when Steven Spielberg took the stage and passionately urged us to honor the next generation of artists. And by the following year, the VES-Autodesk Student Award was born. I’m grateful for every moment.
Can you share any closing thoughts?
The number one biggest strength and pleasure is working with extraordinary staff and passionate volunteer leaders as we serve our Board and Sections. We would never be able to pay for the caliber of award-winning artists and innovators who are on this journey with us, simply because they believe in who we are and what we do. I’ve been in the catbird’s seat for 18 years, and I’m the luckiest guy in the industry.