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Montreal-based visual effects expert gets Oscar nomination for work on 'Gravity'

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TORONTO - Montreal-based visual effects expert Chris Lawrence says working on the space thriller "Gravity" was the "biggest challenge" he's ever faced and he "never imagined" he'd receive an Oscar nomination for it.

On Thursday the London native, who heads a Montreal branch of international visual effects firm Framestore, was nominated for best achievement in visual effects — an honour he shares with Tim Webber, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould.

There are many more artists who weren't named in the nomination who contributed to the efforts, he said, noting about two dozen of them work for Framestore in Montreal.

"It's really nice for the team," Lawrence said in a telephone interview. "We had a big team of people at Framestore who worked on the (film). There was something like 440 people and I think it's just really nice for everybody that the visual effects have been nominated.

"From my personal standpoint, it's obviously a great honour."

Lawrence was the computer graphics supervisor on "Gravity," which is tied with "American Hustle" with a leading 10 Oscar nominations apiece.

He said before cameras rolled on stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, the visual effects team planned the breathtaking space scenes in pre-visualization using CGI, which "is almost like making an animated version of the movie before you've made the real movie."

"We collaborated very deeply with other departments like the production designer and the cinematographer to figure out the design of everything and the lighting," he said, noting they also worked closely with director/co-writer Alfonso Cuaron.

"We always knew it was a unique project, and you always hope that things are going to turn out well and that everything is going to come together in concert. For me it was seeing the visual effects with the sound as well, which I thought was incredible. And that doesn't get at it until later on in the process, so you don't know what that's going to be like.

"Seeing it all come together like that was really awesome and astonishing."

Lawrence moved from London to Montreal just over a year ago. He'd only been to the city once before and didn't know anyone there, but he couldn't resist the opportunity to work in a place in which visual effects experts can thrive, he said.

"When 'Gravity' finished I just fancied a change," he said. "I was going to take a vacation and come to Canada and then my boss said, 'Well, do you want to go and start an office in Montreal?' So I said OK. You're only going to get asked that once in your life, so it seemed like a good opportunity."

He and his girlfriend, who was also a visual effects producer on "Gravity," both set up the Framestore office in Montreal with a small staff that quickly grew.

"I think the last Christmas party we were three and then this year we were like 150," he said.

The two plan to stay for the foreseeable future.

"I'm crazy enough to enjoy the climate, especially the summer," said Lawrence, who's there on a working permit.

"There's a lot of talented, creative people here."

"I've got no plans to leave," he added. "As long as you guys are gracious enough to have me here, I think I'll stick around for the time being."

The Academy Awards ceremony takes place March 2.

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