Sci-fi fares poorly at Oscars, but Benjamin Button gets some

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

It wasn't a big night for SF&F movies at the 81st Academy Awards in Hollywood on Sunday, but there were some significant wins, led by The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which took home three awards.

The film, which stars Brad Pitt as a man who ages backward, garnered 13 nominations but walked away with three Oscars: art direction, visual effects and makeup.

The Dark Knight, which snagged eight nominations, won two, for supporting actor and sound mixing.

WALL-E won best animated feature after getting six nominations.

Iron Man, Hell Boy II: The Golden Army, Kung Fu Panda and Bolt, all nominated, won nothing.

The award for best animated short film went to La Maison en Petits Cubes, about an elderly man who lives in a world where the water level keeps rising and who continues to build his house higher to stay dry. Through a translator backstage, director Kunio Kato said, "Meeting Mr. Jack Black [who presented the award] was the most exciting thing. I always wanted to be funny as he is."

Richard King, who won best sound editing for The Dark Knight, said backstage that he was disappointed that director Christopher Nolan didn't get nominated. "He was all of our guiding forces and was kind of the energy behind the whole film, so we were surprised that he didn't get a nomination," King said. He added that no additional looping was needed for the film at the time of star Heath Ledger's untimely death.

The art direction winners for Benjamin Button were Donald Graham Burt and Victor J. Zolfo. Backstage, they said that director David Fincher wanted a traditional production design. "We only used special effects to enhance sets or to do composites for set extensions, but for the most part we shot real locations or we built sets and we used it where we needed to push things further," Burt said. "So we tried not to rely on the special effects too much. In terms of where production design is headed, there's definitely two schools of thought on that. There's the traditional school that we all know about building sets and shooting locations, and then there's a school that says we can do it all CG."

Greg Cannom won for best makeup for Benjamin Button. Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton and Craig Barron won the prize for visual effects. "Honestly, the work on The Dark Knight and Iron Man is amazing, so I thought," Barron said backstage. "I mean, to me I felt it was a level playing field. You know, I didn't want to believe that our work was better. I just wanted to let everyone else decide who was the better, ... which was the better work. I know we broke some new ground, but I wasn't sure how that would be perceived."

Barba added: "I think maybe we've shown the other visual-effects companies what could be done. I think we'll see scripts come off shelves that maybe have sat there for a long time until, you know, someone believed it could be done. It's not too dissimilar from when we first saw those dinosaurs walk in Jurassic Park and everybody believed, 'Yeah, we could make dinosaurs walk. We can make amazing creatures.'"