Second Oscar for Gerd Nefzer ?: The sand, dust and wind artist from “Dune”

Second Oscar for Gerd Nefzer?
The sand, dust and wind artist of “Dune”

He already has an Oscar, but Gerd Nefzer could win another one. The special effects artist is in the running for the sci-fi epic Dune. And just about makes it to the awards ceremony.

The second Oscar is within reach for Gerd Nefzer, and he can even receive it personally in Hollywood. In mid-March, the special effects artist from Schwäbisch Hall celebrated his Bafta victory in London’s Royal Albert Hall. The science fiction epic “Dune” by director Denis Villeneuve won five British film awards there, including one for Nefzer and his Hollywood colleagues in the “Visual Effects” category. But he brought something else back with him. “We tested positive for Corona last week,” said the Swabian on Wednesday. Nefzer and his wife actually wanted to be in Los Angeles for the Oscars. “It’s just the dumbest time you could choose,” says the 56-year-old. They only have mild symptoms, but without a negative test, the couple cannot make the trip to Hollywood.

After a negative test on Friday, he was able to fly quickly from Germany to Los Angeles on Saturday, the native Swabian announced after his arrival in California. He actually no longer believed that it would work out. The Film Academy has strict corona requirements for nominees and guests of the show. The chances of an Oscar “are not too bad for us,” says Nefzer with a thick Swabian accent.

That’s modestly understated. After many awards for the “Dune” effects this award season, the film industry has declared Nefzer and his colleagues the Oscar favorites. Just not himself. “I’m more of a pessimist and careful not to fall into a hole if, for example, James Bond wins the Oscar,” says Nefzer with a wink. The effects makers of films like “No Time to Die” or “Spider-Man: No Way Home” are also nominated.

“Thank you, Germany”


Nefzer already has an Oscar.

(Photo: dpa)

Even the first Oscar was “completely unthinkable”. In 2018, Nefzer and three colleagues outperformed the favorite “Planet of the Apes: Survival” with their work on “Blade Runner 2049”, also directed by Villeneuve. At that time he stood on stage shaking his head and beamed in front of an audience of millions: “Thank you, Germany. Thank you. Great”.

Everything was so new and exciting the first time, now he would be “a little bit more relaxed” and could approach the Oscar gala more relaxed. While he was responsible for fog, rain and snow in “Blade Runner 2049”, he is now the expert for sandstorms, dust and wind. The visually stunning science fiction epic takes place on the desert planet Arrakis, where good and evil forces fight for the valuable substance Spice. It was shot in the desert in Jordan and in studios in Budapest.

Nefzer enthusiastically talks about the “quite complex” special effects that he had to create with a crew of over 50 people, not on the computer, but actually on the location with tricky manual work. They built a road in the desert specifically to get a 400-ton crane there. An ornithopter, a dragonfly-like aircraft, was hung from it and bombarded with wind and dust. For a scene with huge burning palm trees, they worked for weeks with palm fronds lasered from thin sheet steel, which were then set on fire. For a studio scene in which an aircraft crashes into a dune, Nefzer experimented with large quantities of spelled husks, i.e. the shells of grain kernels. A tractor was also used to pull the device through the “sand”.

Classic family business

His old job helped him, jokes Nefzer, a trained agricultural engineer. He has been in the film business for over 30 years. The company was founded by his father-in-law Karl Nefzer in 1968 to rent out film cars and other props. In the 1980s, special effects were added, and after many television series, orders for films such as “Inglourious Basterds”, “The Hunger Games” or “Bridge of Spies: The Negotiator”. “We are still a classic family business, with my father-in-law, my brother-in-law and me,” emphasizes the father of two. His daughter and son, both students, would also occasionally help out.

“Dune” is nominated for ten Oscars, including best picture, in many technical categories and for the music of the German composer Hans Zimmer. As one of the more than 9,000 members of the film academy, Nefzer is also allowed to vote on the Oscar winners. Of course he hopes for awards for “Dune”, but Nefzer is enthusiastic about many nominated films, including the tragic comedy “Coda” with the deaf US actor Troy Kotsur. He had a great meeting with him in London, says Nefzer. “I’ll keep my fingers crossed for him”. For his Oscar (or maybe two soon) he would have to find a good place. He’s still “locked up” in a safe, Nefzer laughs.

He’s on the road so much. He usually commutes between the company headquarters in Schwäbisch Hall, the branch on the premises of the Potsdam studio Babelsberg and film sets all over the world. The Oscar win changed him little. He is a down-to-earth person, but “as a modest Swabian, you can sometimes walk through the world with a proud chest,” jokes the Oscar candidate.

After the possible second win there wasn’t much time to rest. Filming for the “Dune” sequel will begin in April. “I’m really looking forward to the second part. It will be a lot of work and exhausting, but we have a very nice script,” says Nefzer. And grins: “But I’m not allowed to say more.”