Eric Saindon was not a star-struck kid.
He didn’t collect movie posters or spend all his free time at a cineplex or try to be the lead in every school play. In fact, his mom says, he was a quiet, studious youngster who loved to draw and wanted to be an architect.
So how is it that Saindon, a Gorham High School graduate, came to be an Academy Award nominee who will be strolling the famous red carpet Sunday before taking his seat along with a who’s who of Hollywood stars?
“When he was in college studying architecture, they recognized his abilities and encouraged him to study animation,” said his mother, Lila Saindon of Gorham. “He never did work as an architect. Right out of college, he got a job at a company that makes (animation) software, and he’s been working in that field ever since.”
Saindon, 42, is nominated for an Oscar in the Best Visual Effects category for his work on “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” As visual effects supervisor, his name appears on the Oscar nomination along with three other people.
Saindon has worked in visual effects for “Hobbit” director Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital in New Zealand for more than a decade. His resume includes work on such blockbusters as the three “Lord of the Rings” films, as well as on “King Kong,” “Night at the Museum” and “Avatar.”
He’s been to the Oscars before — in 2010, when “Avatar” won a visual effects Oscar. But Sunday’s ceremony will mark the first time Saindon will attend as a named nominee.
Is he nervous? Does he have a speech ready?
“Since starting in the industry, it’s always been a hope to get nominated. So few get nominated, it’s a delight to actually make it,” said Saindon in an email written in London last week while waiting to board a plane to his home in New Zealand.
“I have some ideas of what I could say, but I never write speeches. I think it’s always a better speech if it’s from the heart, and you just say what you are thinking at the time. The problem with this is you always forget to thank people you really should mention.”
Because he’s been to the Oscars before, and because he’s a practical sort, Saindon said he’ll be more prepared for some of the logistical challenges of going to the Oscars than he was during his first trip there.
“The one thing that I learned from the event was to bring snacks in your pocket,” he said. “There is really no food, just Champagne, and from when you leave the hotel at 3 p.m. to around 9 p.m., when it’s all wrapped up, there is nothing to eat.”
Nothing to eat? Not even in the famous Oscar goodie bags?
“They don’t really do goodie bags at the Oscars anymore. Someone told me it’s for tax reasons,” said Saindon.
When asked if he thinks he’ll win the Oscar this year, Saindon said, “We definitely have a one in five chance.” (The other films nominated for visual effects are “Life of Pi,” “Marvel’s The Avengers,” “Prometheus” and “Snow White and the Huntsman.”)
Saindon was the overall visual effects supervisor for “The Hobbit,” which means he worked closely with artists who worked on the characters and other effects as well as with Jackson.
“When filming, my day involved being on set with the director and helping to make good decisions on ways to film to get the best possible visual effects,” said Saindon. “I give direction to artists, and when I am happy with shots, I bring them to the director for approval to go into the movie.”
‘PUSHING THE TECHNOLOGY’
In an age where incredibly realistic visual effects are pretty much the norm, Saindon thinks Weta is particularly good at “pushing the technology” to make effects more and more believable.
“We make CG characters that you forget are digital. They keep the audience in the movie rather than pulling them out,” said Saindon.
Saindon’s sister, Tara Picard of Portland, says her brother’s career isn’t completely surprising. As a youngster, he was always drawing, and he had a creative flair for building things.
Both of those skills come in handy when creating computer-generated effects.
“He made this condo for his ferret once that was very creative,” said Picard. “And he was always drawing.”
Saindon’s mother credits teachers at Gorham High for recognizing her son’s skills in math and art, and for recommending that he pursue computer-aided drawing classes.
After high school, he took classes at the community college level, and later studied architecture at Washington State University. He got a job out of college at a company that made animation software. From there, he worked at Santa Barbara Studios in California before moving on to Weta Digital.
Saindon lives in a neighborhood of Wellington, New Zealand, with his wife, Beth. They have three children ranging in age from 3 to 8.
Lila Saindon says her son likes New Zealand largely because his laid-back style fits in with the “no worries” attitude for which New Zealanders are famous. She says her son and his wife would like to come back to the U.S. at some point, but they’d rather not raise children in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, that’s where most of the jobs in Saindon’s field are.
Saindon says he doesn’t plan to go anywhere too soon, as he has two more “Hobbit” movies to work on in the near future for Weta.
Saindon will be at the Oscars with his wife. His parents aren’t going, and they can’t even watch the ceremony live: Saindon’s father runs a boat business, and both his parents will be at a boat show in Boston during the telecast.
As for Saindon himself, he’ll be mingling with, and gazing at, Hollywood stars.
But based on his experience at the Oscars in 2010, he says he’ll also prepare himself for some of the hassles of being at the ceremony.
“We left the hotel at around 3 p.m., and it took us close to two hours to drive the five miles to the start of the carpet. L.A. traffic is always bad, but this was worse than normal,” said Saindon. “Once you arrive, it’s amazing how many people are there yelling at all the stars. It’s a bit disorienting, because you want to look around and see who is there.
“But you also don’t want to trip on someone’s dress and really cause a scene.”
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: