The Academy Award for Visual Effects is an Oscar given to the best achievement in visual effects. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences first recognized the technical contributions of special effects to movies at its inaugural dinner in 1928, presenting a plaque for "Best Engineering Effects" to the first Best Picture Oscar winner, the World War I flying drama Wings.
Producer David O. Selznick, then production head at RKO Studios, petitioned the Academy Board of Governors to recognize the work of animator Willis O'Brien for his groundbreaking work on 1933's King Kong.
But it was not until 1938 when a film was actually recognized for its effects work. A Special Achievement Award for Special Effects in the Paramount film Spawn of the North. The following year "Best Special Effects" became a recognized category, although on occasion the Academy has chosen to honor a single film outright rather than nominate two or more films.
From 1964 to 1971, the name of the category was Best Special Visual Effects. The name was since changed, in 1977, to Best Visual Effects.
Usually there are three nominated films. In 1979, there were five films were nominated. Sometimes no awards were given. Other times, a single film would be given the award outright.
In 2007, it was decided that a list of no more than 15 eligible films would be chosen, from which a maximum of 7 would be chosen for further consideration. A vote would then proceed, with a maximum of three nominees. Starting in 2010, there will be five nominations. No more than four people may be nominated for a single film. 
According to the official Academy Award rules, the criteria are:
(a) consideration of the contribution the visual effects make to the overall production and
(b) the artistry, skill and fidelity with which the visual illusions are achieved.
Dennis Muren has the most nominations ever (with 15) and the most wins ever (with 8).
A number of filmmakers have had their movies honored for their achievements in visual effects; i.e., five films produced by George Pal, five by producer George Lucas, five by director James Cameron (who began his career in Hollywood as an effects technician), four by directors Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, and three by director Robert Zemeckis. Stanley Kubrick won his only Oscar ever, in this category, in 1969.
Early Awards for Special Effects
"For outstanding achievement in creating special photographic and sound effects"
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