Gorham native Eric Saindon, second from right, with, from left, Joe Letteri, Richard Baneham, and Daniel Barrett, winners of the award for best visual effects for “Avatar: The Way of Water” in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday. Saindon had to leave the ceremony to go to the hospital for surgery on a ruptured small intestine. Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Eric Saindon was not going to let anything stop him from picking up his first Oscar in person, not even a ruptured small intestine.

Saindon, who grew up in Gorham, won the Oscar Sunday night for his work as senior visual effects supervisor on the film “Avatar: The Way of the Water.” Immediately afterward, he and his wife were driven by limo to a Los Angeles hospital where Saindon had surgery to repair a ruptured small intestine.

“It was a nightmare. I was so excited to see him win the Oscar, but it broke my heart because I could tell he was in so much pain,” said his mother, Lila Saindon of Buxton, who watched her son’s win on TV. “It’s been a goal of his to win, and he had a sense that this was his year, so he really wanted to be there.”

Saindon, 53, was getting dressed for the Oscar ceremony Sunday in Los Angeles when he suddenly doubled over in pain, his mother said. A hotel doctor recommended that he go right to a Los Angeles hospital. Doctors there did tests, ruling out appendicitis and telling Saindon his pain might be caused by kidney stones. After getting some medicine for the pain and while waiting for test results to come back, Saindon decided to go to the Oscars.

“I think he figured that if it was kidney stones he could deal with that and still go,” Lila Saindon said.

Saindon was already in his tuxedo, and his wife, Beth Arko, brought her makeup to the hospital and applied it there. The couple missed a red carpet interview Saindon had been scheduled to do, but got into the ceremony before the doors were closed and locked, Lila Saindon said.


Eric Saindon, originally from Gorham, was nominated for a visual effects Oscar for his work on “Avatar: The Way of Water.” Photo courtesy of Weta FX

Saindon was senior effects supervisor on “Avatar” and had been nominated for the visual effects Oscar with three others who worked on the film: Joe Letteri, Richard Baneham and Daniel Barrett.

On TV, Saindon was seen getting up from his seat, stoically, when the award was announced. He hugged his wife and then walked to the stage with the three other winners. He’s not wearing his bow tie, which Lila Saindon said he probably left in the hospital room. Photos of the four men on stage show Saindon holding his Oscar in one hand and smiling.

He also took time to say a few words off stage, which were recorded by the Oscars’ “Thank You Cam” and posted online. He thanked the company he works for, Weta FX, and all the people he works with, including several by name. He also thanked his family, including his parents, wife and children.

“I talked to him in the hospital, and he said, ‘You know, Mom, it stinks I couldn’t enjoy the night, but at the end of the day I have my Oscar,’ ” Lila Saindon said.

Saindon knew when he made the decision to go to the Oscars that he’d have to go right back to the hospital afterward. He had surgery to repair his ruptured small intestine early Monday and was moved out of intensive care later in the day. Lila Saindon said she did not know how long her son would have to stay in the hospital and that she had not heard if doctors knew what caused his condition.

On Tuesday morning, Eric Saindon sent an email to the Press Herald from his hospital room, apologizing for not responding earlier to a reporter’s request for an interview about his Oscar win and explaining he had to have emergency surgery.


Saindon had been nominated twice before for Oscars, for “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” in 2014 and “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” in 2013. He did not win either time. This year, film critics and others had predicted that “Avatar” was the strong favorite to win the Oscar.

Other films nominated in the visual effects category this year included “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “The Batman,” “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Top Gun: Maverick.”

Eric Saindon, left, Richard Baneham, Daniel Barrett and Joe Letteri accept the award for best visual effects for “Avatar: The Way of Water” at the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday. Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

After graduating from Gorham High School in 1988, Saindon took community college classes, and later studied architecture at Washington State University. He got a job out of college at a company that made animation software.

After that, he worked at the animation company Santa Barbara Studios in California. In 1999, he went to work at Weta Digital in New Zealand – now Weta FX – and worked his way up to senior visual effects supervisor. He’s been at Weta ever since and lives in Wellington, New Zealand, with his wife and four children.

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