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Report from the Visual Effects Bakeoff

Bill Desowitz reports from the Academy’s Visual Effects bake-off.  He predicts the same films he thought would be nominated prior to the bake-off, “Life of PiThe Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyThe Avengers, and The Dark Knight Rises … with PrometheusThe Amazing Spider-Man, or even Skyfall grabbing the final spot.”  He doesn’t mention Cloud Atlas, even though the reel they showed was among the most dazzling effects of the year.  These are all really strong contenders, however.  Desowitz reports:

The five-minute presentations were informative and often humorous while the 10-minute reels fairly effectively showed off the eye candy. The work was consistently good throughout, mixing old and new techniques in a naturalistic way. Everything was screened digitally except for The Dark Knight Rises (the lone film holdout) and there was also the first-time bakeoff demo of higher frame rate, which went smoothly.

Among the highlights:

Rhythm & Hues’ Bill Westenhofer suggesting that it wasn’t bad enough having animals, water, and children on Life of Pi– Ang Lee also had to have stereo in the mix. “I guess he’s a glutton for punishment.” Even so, Richard Parker, the CG Bengal tiger, is a marvel to behold: the digital model features 10 million hairs and the number of controls in the paws out shined some of their facial rigs. “It had a dual path skin system because tigers are really a mass of muscle with a lose draper of skin. Dealing with wet fur was hard as well.”

Weta’s Joe Letteri delivering the most in-depth and polished presentation about redoing Gollum from the inside out, dynamically dealing with forced perspective for 3-D on multiple stages, and handling the controversial 48 fps with aplomb. “We were able to capture Andy’s entire performance real time on set this time, so it was the first set-up we did and drove a lot of nice character moments. In fact, probably our biggest contribution to the film was our characters that we were able to bring to the world. “

The Dark Knight Rises Paul Franklin proclaiming that if digital doesn’t work out, Nolan and his collaborators will be primed to take over the film market. “The key to the success of this approach was to bring VFX closer to the production. It was important that [Nolan] should be speaking directly to the people who are actually working on the shots and that VFX development should start as soon as possible.”

Skyfall’s Chris Corbould proudly explaining how they built a full-scale model train (two 60-foot carriages) instead of a miniature for the Tube crash because that wouldn’t have been good enough for Bond.

Full report here.