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.

28 Comments on this Post

  1. steve50

    Richard Parker is an amazing and major accomplishment. I just hope that the academy recognizes this and, for once, steers away from the fantasy/explosions that have dominated this category in the past.

    Great clip, btw.

  2. If life of pi doesn’t win this, then I don’t know how I would react.

  3. steve50

    Yes – every muscle, movement, every hair was right, not to mention those eyes that looked right into your soul. Maybe it was the 3D glasses, but I think that’s what they were going for.

  4. Truthfully, this was the best use of visual effects in a film I’ve seen since Jurassic Park. I was actually trying to look for things that felt out of place or seemed to be clearly special effects. Outside of the whale and the jumping fish, I was blown away by how real everything looked. Totally deserving of the visual effects Oscar (and several other nominations, including one for Mr. Lee).

  5. Gregoire

    Life Of Pi is clearly superior to all, but yes, I would love to see Cloud Atlas get in actually. I’m not holding my breath though.

  6. Piece on The Master and Moonrise Kingdom, two films on the verge of being nominated, potentially being nominated.

    http://thescreenteen.blogspot.com/2013/01/those-pesky-1s.html

  7. Tero Heikkinen

    Life of Pi has to win Visual Effects. There’s no going around it. I just love Richard Parker.

  8. Life of Pi.
    The Amazing Spider-Man.
    <3

  9. #parkersfeelings :)

  10. It could have been my theater I guess but there were times when Richard Parker looked a little transparent to me. Especially when he was skinnier. I don’t know about effects. I don’t do them. So if the tiger was super difficult then it should win.

    If it were me I’d go with the effects you forget about or that you take for granted. Like THE HOBBIT especially Gollum and the effects in PROMETHEUS. I don’t think SKYFALL’s effects were as good as the others. The train thing wasn’t up to par imo. As far as TDKR goes, I know Nolan uses a lot of practical effects so I wouldn’t know if I was being impressed by a stunt or with computer generated stuff. Now that I think of it THE AVENGERS probably had the worst, almost retro, effects. If you focus on the Hulk you’ll be blown away but some of the other stuff with the tesseract and those alien ship things looked late 80s.

  11. They are all fabulous nominees…but life of pi has to win…it’s visual effects were perfect!

  12. Daveylow

    After the nominations are made, does the whole academy vote for the FX category? I would hate Pi to lose this award.

  13. Tero Heikkinen

    Everybody votes, so Pi should win.

  14. The Skyfall love scares me to think that it might sneak in here but am sticking with Prometheus for now.

  15. Joao Mattos

    Haven’t seen “Pi” yet.But I read today that the poor girl victim of that collective rape on India, was returning from a session of the movie. Know it’s exagerated but It will took me some days to see the movie after that.

  16. Cloud Atlas
    The Hobbit
    Life of Pi
    Prometheus

    These are my top choices… But TDKR might Replace Cloud Atlas or Prometheus… Fifth would be Skyfall if the Academy will really embrace it and probably give it more techs love…

  17. Oh Life of Pi will win. Not only does it deserve to, but it’s a film that the whole Academy will have seen, and liked. Hugo beat Rise of the Planet of the Apes last year. Life of Pi would win even if it wasn’t the strongest.

  18. steve50

    Hope you’re right, Paddy. I was rooting for Rise last year for reasons similar to those that make Pi my favorite this year, but I think the voters are dazzled more by gizmos and FX set pieces than they are by the recreation of the natural, which is far more difficult to pull off, imo.

  19. I’ve found that they often like their visual effects to look like visual effects, if you know what I mean. Subtlety isn’t their bag. That may be one thing going against Life of Pi in the end, the fact that Richard Parker is such a realistic creation that voters may not realise that he’s largely a CGI creation, and may cast their votes elsewhere.

    Remember when The Golden Compass won? They do like their talking animals. If only Richard Parker had just BLOODY SAID GOODBYE!!!

    But if a film has Best Picture buzz, it has an automatic advantage over its fellow nominees. And Life of Pi will probably be the only VFX nominee with a Best Picture nomination under its belt also.

  20. The nominees:

    Life of Pi
    Prometheus
    The Avengers
    The Hobbit (it’s groundbreaking, if nothing else)
    Cloud Atlas

    The winner: Life of Pi

    The whale and the flying fish were just fine. Although I think most people are not aware that there is such a thing as flying fish (they glide), I thought they were realistic. Each of the movies above have their flaws, visual effects-wise, however Life of Pi’s are camoflauged by the dreamlike quality of of the movie.

  21. Jack Traven II

    Life of Pi’s VFX were extraordinarily grand indeed. So, a win would be very well-deserved.

  22. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=411785052231602
    For “The Avengers” 275,000 digital photographs were taken and used to create New York City as seen in the film. Our artists created 1,800 pano-spheres from the photos which in turn were used for everything from the Iron Man flying shots to the alien invasion to massive tie-in shot on the Park Avenue Viaduct.

    275,000 digital photographs??? That alone is mission impossible…
    it would take me like thousand years to complete just that (and that’s just very few% of the whole movie’s CGI) How did they get it done? Amazing. Orz

    My hats off the the artist who create full digital New York Cit in the Avengers, and other VFX hard working.

  23. as reply to someone said The Avengers’s VFX is late 80’s
    You really don’t know a thing about VFX industry (and On time/before deadline/on budget/creativity at the same time have to be considered)

    Behind the Magic: “Marvel’s The Avengers” – Anatomy of a Shot
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZsEwUuBjio

    that alone is truly amazing visual miracle

  24. Tero Heikkinen

    Dennis Muren, for real? :)

  25. “For “The Avengers” 275,000 digital photographs were taken and used to create New York City as seen in the film. Our artists created 1,800 pano-spheres from the photos which in turn were used for everything from the Iron Man flying shots to the alien invasion to massive tie-in shot on the Park Avenue Viaduct.”

    Really? Sure beats a CGI’d-up tiger. :)

  26. Insider

    Hope Cloud Atlas make the cut

  27. If Hereafter could get a nomination with the tsunami effect, how about The Impossible? It made Hereafter look like a fun day at the water park.

  28. I don’t know about effects. I don’t do them. So if the tiger was super difficult then it should win.

    I’m sorry but did I say this? And did I also say IMO meaning in my opinion. In fact I think my comment was littered with admissions that I’m a layperson on the subject.

    (and On time/before deadline/on budget/creativity at the same time have to be considered

    I don’t know how I’m supposed to have that information. But next time something looks like it’s from MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE I’ll remember that I have no business saying so since I don’t work in the industry.

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