Visual Effects

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Jurassic World just passed The Avengers to become the third highest grossing domestic and international hit of all time. When you adjust it for inflation it drops to number 27, which is still impressive, considering. This means not only did millions of people want to see it, but once they saw it they liked it enough to not only see it again but recommend it to millions of their friends. Doesn’t that count for something in the world of naming the “Best Picture of the year”? The answer to that is, no, it doesn’t count for anything beyond the disproportionately tiny visual effects category. Sound, Sound mixing. Art direction on occasion. Titanic and Avatar hold the the number one and number two spots, but what made them Best Picture juggernauts was their serious side, their emotional effectiveness.. Still, it is getting harder and harder to ignore the “new normal” of Hollywood when it comes to the Best Picture race.

Last year was probably the most dramatic disconnect between the films real people saw vs. films the Oscar voters saw and voted on. The only movie the majority of Americans could really talk about was American Sniper because so many had already seen the film by the time the awards rolled around. How do you build a movie like American Sniper? You consider both the audience and the Oscars, meaning it’s a prestige pic made by a studio set for wide release with big name celebrities. Studios put these movies out every year but only some of them are deemed worthy by critics and then by the industry. By no means does the industry take the public into account anymore. The ticket buyers do not influence voters. At the same time, voters are still a consensus, albeit a slightly upscale consensus compared to, say, the People’s Choice Awards. These are ostensibly industry professionals who believe they are choosing the best films they saw in a given season.

As far as blockbusters go, Jurassic World is popular for a reason. Part of its appeal, no doubt, is the spectacle left over from Spielberg’s 1993 Jurassic Park. The same way the new Star Wars movie (and the Star Trek movie before it) is supposed to wipe clean the bad memories of the bad sequels, this Jurassic Park was being billed as a “return to form,” meaning, the same park, with more focus on characters. In this version, the dinos have been genetically altered to be bigger and meaner and scarier. Audiences interpret that as spectacle of the kind they have never seen before.

The other appealing things about Jurassic World include its alluring male lead, Chris Pratt, who has gained a massive following of young girls since Guardians of the Galaxy. Pre-awareness + spectacle + appealing lead would be enough for a major hit. For it rise to the top three there must be something more. That “more” is that it’s a pretty good popcorn movie with an engaging group of creatures you feel for. It also has an eco message that is clearly anti-SeaWorld, anti-animal captivity.

In one way, you can look at Jurassic World and its ilk as the ruiner of all good things, movie-wise. That it is what movies will be in the future, as George Lucas once predicted — tent poles, event movies that play everywhere in the world and make more money than anyone could ever dream of because they stick to the formula: leading male saves the day, massive previously unseen visual effects, humor. It would be easy to call the film sexist but in fact it’s actually worse than that: it’s misogynist in a casual way, meaning none of the women in the film understand anything important, and more than one woman seems to have been invited to serve the sole purpose of gory dino-bait. This is a major leap from the first film where Spielberg not only cast Laura Dern as one of the smartest scientists but he also cast a young female teen/computer whiz to save the day. In the update, the kids are made into two boys. The highly placed executive played by Bryce Dallas Howard is mansplained about the dinosaurs every step of the way. She doesn’t even know the basics of what they are and even worse, the script makes her do the world’s most stupid thing: run from a T-Rex in high heels.

Because my personal commitment to animal welfare supersedes my irritation with the film’s misogyny, I was willing to give Jurassic World a pass and even paid to see the movie twice. This formula works all over the world because misogyny thrives all over the world — in fact, it’s the default position. When you look at the top moneymakers internationally they are all male-driven visual effects movies. In other words, audiences aren’t necessarily looking for feminist heroes or stunt casting. They want the formula. If you give it to them, they will come.

Because of its inherent and obvious sexist ways, Jurassic World doesn’t deserve to be nominated as the best film of the year, although it wouldn’t be the first nor the last Best Picture nominee to be blatantly sexist. Just look at last year. The only difference is that in the prestige pics they make the supporting females a wee bit smarter than Bryce Dallas Howard.

Still, I can’t be the only one who is looking at the long game here, where it’s all headed and what might eventually be the answer. The Academy is going to have to find a way to answer to the changing landscape of film. Either they will need a separate category for effects-driven films or else they will need a separate tech category to honor the evolving visuals. A publicist friend suggested there being two categories — one for visual effects and one for special effects. I’m no expert but I would think anything to expand where they are now would be a step in the right direction for them.

Why do I think the Oscars need to evolve? They will be closing in on their 100th birthday in a decade and a half. In the year 2025 what will movies look like? What will the “Oscar movies” look like? Will they be strictly independents? Will they be films made in other countries where they value their artists over profits? Will the studios continue to care about winning Oscars — so much so that they lay those select eggs every year?

I don’t have the answer and to tell you the truth, I probably won’t be writing about the Oscars then. It does seem, however, like the film industry — at least the American film industry =– is only moving in one direction. Perhaps things will shift back as the millennials age a bit. Either way, if Jurassic World beats Titanic to become number 2, what then? Can it beat Avatar? Will any movie ever beat Avatar and if so, would it be deserving of being named Best Picture of the Year? We’ll have to wait and see.

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“To a canary, the cat is the monster. We’re just used to being the cat.”

If all goes as expected, Jurassic World’s domestic box office is going to make it one of the top three highest grossing films of all time. We’re probably more in Avengers or Dark Knight territory than we are Avatar and Titanic territory but it’s still worth noting, and questioning, what it was about this film that hit so big with audiences. Jurassic World is already at number 7. By the end of this weekend it will likely become the number 5 highest grossing domestically. It should easily beat The Dark Knight at $534, then has to hit $623 to beat The Avengers. The film doesn’t seem to be slowing down, as least not any time soon. Someone on Twitter suggested it would hit $650, which would put it at number 3.

The film’s high box office could be down to several factors that make it stand out — one is the popularity of Chris Pratt, believe it or not. After Guardians of the Galaxy he became a box office draw, at least for young girls. Fans of the original movie, families, anyone wanting to see a big effects movie of the kind summers are made on. Finally, people will spend money to see something on screen they’ve never seen before. Sure, they’ve seen CGI dinos, but nothing like that image of the massive whale-like creature eating the Great White shark.

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I had been avoiding the film, thinking it would be as bad as films are on this massive scale, but Jurassic World wasn’t bad. It was thoroughly entertaining and more importantly had its heart and consciousness in the right place; we’re entering an era where people are starting to slowly realize that we can’t keep treating animals the way we have been, certainly not a imprisoned performers for our entertainment. One can’t not notice the parallels between Jurassic and Sea World. It’s deliberate, down to the splash guards the spectators wear. Like the first Jurassic Park, the notion that we think ourselves special and entitled enough to keep intelligent animals in captivity for our own entertainment results in our own demise, for one. This message rings loudly and clearly in Jurassic World. We’re not too far away from the day SeaWorld will have to end its barbaric practice of keeping giant, magnificent orcas in tiny pools. If Jurassic Park makes people think of SeaWorld I hope it makes more money than Avatar, though it probably won’t. Avatar, too, had a eco-message attached. Jim Cameron and his wife Suzi Amos are working day in and day out to preserve the environment. How great it would be if the number 1 and number 2 highest grossing films of all time had an ecological message attached. Maybe then we would start to get the message.

As in the first film, the dinos can’t lose. Each time they’re on screen it’s thrilling to watch. The newly mutated dinosaur, a Frankenstein’s monster built to bring in more ticket buyers, is a far more cynical approach to the animals exploiters than the first Jurassic Park. They suggest that life will work itself out if humans would not only get out of the way but also stop breeding and testing things they don’t understand.

The best part of the film by far is Chris Pratt and his symbiotic relationship to the raptors. Even though mammals tend to be more of a bonding species that whatever dinosaurs are, birds can bond with and become attached to people, so too, then, must dinosaurs.

It’s easy to look at Jurassic World and see it as the beginning of the end. After all, this is all it takes to make shitloads of money now: branding and visual effects. We knew that already. Much has been made of the sexism inherent in the depiction of Bryce Dallas Howard’s character — and those criticisms are valid, especially when compared to how carefully the first film treated its female characters. The genius in the room was John Hammond’s granddaughter, Alexis, the young girl who figured out how to hack the computer system. In contrast, Howard’s character needs to have things mansplained to her throughout the film because she’s clearly too dumb to figure anything out for herself. Worse, she spends the whole movie running for her life in high heels. Trust me, not even Kim Kardashian would do that. The heels would be the first things to go.  In the end, though, does it really matter that much? It doesn’t to me. She’s a high-powered career woman who fights to save her nephews. This isn’t an “important film” but it’s a rousing summer movie.

Finally, it’s not really necessary anymore to build suspense the way Spielberg did. For instance, this masterful scene in Jurassic Park can’t be matched by anything in Jurassic World:

Chris Pratt riding the motorcycles as alpha to the raptors comes mighty close.

The ugly, however, is that this film keeps bringing us that much closer to tent poles obliterating the kinds of films studios make that we all like to see. When films can make this kind of money why would they bother trying to make anything else. At this point, though, there may be no going back.

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What do you get when you pair dazzling visual effects with branding and pre-awareness? Lotsa cash. As the summer movie season launches, Jurassic World just broke the record of opening weekend box office, beating The Avengers. Oscar season will wipe summer season off the map but you’d have to be an idiot not to read the writing on the wall. One now wonders where Jurassic World will end. Star Wars is going to wipe it off the map and we’re going to see another year where branded pre-awareness paired with visual effects rules the day.

Monday Update #2: Universal is reporting that Jurassic World grossed $208.8 million this weekend, which sets a new all-time opening weekend record.

Monday Update #1: Early reports this morning have Jurassic World’s final weekend tally hitting $209 million, which tops the $207 million haul of the first Avengers.

The only question that remains is what the Oscars plan to do about the changing Hollywood. Will they expand Best Picture to an even ten to allow in the tent poles? Will they create an additional category for Best Effects Driven Picture? Will they expand that puny Visual Effects category to ten at least? They will not evolve, at least not yet, not until they have no other choice. They will continue to embrace the small indie drama that appeals to their sensibilities.

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George Miller is an ecology minded director with an eye on the concerns of the future of mankind, its treatment of animals and lastly but most importantly, the value of women not just for decoration but for everything that matters. That must be why he gave over his Mad Max reboot to Charlize Theron who, with Fury Road, becomes one of the screen’s great icons — male or female — to inhabit the entire film, leaving her co-stars mostly in the dust. Literally. Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is not ass-kicking eye candy meant to aid the hero in his quest to save the world. This film is her quest to change the messed up the world and fix what’s wrong. Who killed the world? Well, Fury Road makes that quite clear.

With one arm cgi-d off, Theron cuts a tall, lean, mean figure — part Ripley in the Alien series, part Mad Max in the Mel Gibson incarnations. For once she knows the weaponry better than any dude, is a better shot, and will fight the thing to the death not to delight the fancy of male viewers but she is, at last, a human being beyond even her sex.

To that end, I personally don’t see Mad Max: Fury Road as a “feminist” film because I see the women as human beings fighting for the salvation of the planet and the right to be free. They are all oppressed but it’s the women, led by Theron, who ultimately take a righteous and bloody stand. A feminist argument could easily made, one that talks about sex trafficking, Hollywood sexism, but the brilliant thing about this film and why it’s such a giant step forward is that the women are treated equally — they are fighters, they are eye candy, they are nurturers, they are making decisions. Fury Road would have been a great movie without the women playing an equal part but it is an exceptional one with them. Leave it to George Miller to wipe clean the recent trend of “move over honey I’ll drive” casting. Those who make the decisions in Hollywood that led to this sorry-ass state of affairs should get schooled from the wise and experienced Miller.

Fury Road is loud, all up in your grill, non-stop, blaring, jarring action for most of it. It does calm down eventually as it sets itself up for its unforgettably thrilling, applause-inducing finale. The theater here in Cannes burst into spontaneous applause many times but especially after that sequence. Half of it seems cinematically impossible, let alone physically. But Miller’s camera just doesn’t want to stop and breathe. It flies about, following hands reaching for guns, feet jamming on pedals, nails ramming into foreheads, people climbing underneath speeding vehicles and then there’s that barren landscape, the end of the world where everything turned to dust.

Fury Road is so much spectacle. Theron gives the film its beating heart. That might sound like the role women are often given but in this case, she has no love interest but is on a mission to save the “breeders,” a group of the prettiest, freshest, youngest women being held as sex slaves. This group includes a surprisingly talented Rose Huntington Whitely. Surprising because she’s a model, like the rest of them, who can act. She’s mostly known as Jason Statham’s girlfriend but in this film she shows that she’s got something beyond her very pretty face.

Miller casts women of all types and varieties but I was particularly thrilled seeing older women as warriors. Of course, they have all types of men playing fighters and warriors too but it’s not often you get to see any woman over the age of sixty lobbing spears and bullets in the name of righteousness.

Tom Hardy makes for a marvelous Mad Max, though he does take a slight backseat to Theron. This is her story mostly and he reluctantly helps. Still, the moments he does prove why he’s one of the best of his generation. What a versatile actor he’s proving to be, with the help of many opportunities available to him. Not so with Ms. Theron, who once seemed to have peaked with Monster. Too many actresses show us what they can really do, win an Oscar, then disappear. She’s turned up a few times but nothing on this scale. Theron has sweetened with age and might go on to have a much richer career because of this shaved head, road warrior moment she’s been given.

Some men seem to feel resentment at the use of the word feminist. All it really means is equal rights for women. Yet the word has become so loaded it almost seems to lug around a parenthetical that also says (man-hater). Fury Road shows us a world where women are given equal opportunities to defend themselves and fight for justice. In rescuing the “breeders” Theron is changing the way men in power view women. That counts as fighting for equal rights so you would be well within the realm of reality to call her a feminist. That isn’t how I saw the movie, though, I must admit. We’ve become so dry in how women are portrayed anymore that any leading role a woman gets automatically seems to make it fodder for feminist writers or critics.

But I grew up in a different time where women did star in movies. Just as Theron and her crew were searching for green things, fresh water and life to return to, Miller has returned the role of women to the big screen as people. Fury Road is a cinematic experience like no other — not just because 80% of the effects are practical — non-cgi — and not just because he treats women as people, but because it is a thrill a minute, one of the most breathtaking action films I’ve ever seen. It’s a work of art on a grand scale. The only thing left is the bottom line.

As far as the Oscar race goes, could Charlize Theron sneak in? Stranger thing have happened, but my initial thoughts on that are there will be more Oscar-y kinds of performances that will be introduced. Follow the money.

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And in other news, California is running out of water. Yeah but let’s play the game shall we? Were they worried about their opening box office numbers or was the Star Wars team looking for maximum fluffer action? Either way, I don’t think anyone is going to complain about this (except for old grouches like me). I want to see the trailer but not The Avengers so I guess I’ll have to wait.

I grew up in the era of Star Wars. I was there and an active participant of how movies were about to change. The funny thing was, as a child of the 1970s I grew up under the umbrella of feminism so you had characters like Princess Leia in Star Wars who was the toughest character in the movie (until the later versions). Smart, capable, not just boner fodder. Then there was Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark, same thing. I did not know as a kid waiting in line to see Star Wars over ten times in the theater, committing every line to memory (I challenge anyone to a Star Wars quote-off. I will win because I am part of a rebel alliance and a traitor) that this whole system would eventually lead to the decline of women in film. I never thought it would go in that direction because back then women were actually thought of as people.

As a Star Wars fan (only what was the first Star Wars to me and the second, Empire Strikes Back) I will see the new one because that first movie really is part of my DNA. And here’s hoping filmmakers today who are cheap knock-offs of George Lucas will remember why those movies were great – it wasn’t about the visual effects.

I suspect JJ Abrams’ Star Wars will be like JJ Abrams’ Star Trek – satisfying enough to meet expectations, breezy, funny but not groundbreaking the way the original was. No one can really afford to be groundbreaking anymore as the fix is in – so that it will make shitloads of money worldwide.

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It is still too small a category to contain what is happening to American film. But either way, herewith, the ten:

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
“Godzilla”
“Guardians of the Galaxy”
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”
“Interstellar”
“Maleficent”
“Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb”
“Transformers: Age of Extinction”
“X-Men: Days of Future Past”

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One of the things about Interstellar that has to be seen to be believed are the visual effects, and in this Wired video you can see all that went into it.

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It’s always difficult to write about a movie that requires a second viewing before it can be fully understood. Therefore, I think I will hold off reviewing Interstellar as such but will give you a few preliminary notes.

First off, what helps it in the Oscar race for Best Picture is that it’s likely to land as a “love it/hate it.” Those who love it really love it. Those who hate it really hate it. That can always help with getting in a Best Pic nominee under a preferential ballot – but when it comes to choosing a winner a film needs more broad based support overall, with very little hating going on, in fact, hardly any.

Interstellar wins Visual Effects walking in the door and will likely collect Sound Oscars and perhaps Cinematography and Production Design. But its ultimate fate in terms of the bigger categories remains a question mark. It needs time to settle in and it might not get it. Box office and fan reviews, coupled with how it plays overall in the industry will impact its Oscar chances. But Visual Effects? Hands down.

It’s already dividing critics, with Tim Robey saying “Nolan comes very close here, one might almost say agonisingly close, to forging his masterpiece.” But others aren’t as enthusiastic. Interstellar’s story, Oscar wise, box office wise and legacy wise, remains, for the moment, untold.

I sort of agree with Robey in that I do believe, upon first viewing, that Interstellar is a near masterpiece that could have probably killed its darlings to become one. But its place in film history, I think, will belong to future generations that will have understood the plot already and thus, will be able to appreciate the film’s stunning moments without the necessity of understanding its plot.

There is one thing you can say with absolute certainty: Interstellar is unlike any film you will see this year. The scenes in space are breathtaking. The imagined worlds of Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s cut new terrain – making grand statements about where we’ve been and where we are headed. It is in keeping with the original screenplay Nolan oeuvre – circular storytelling that seems confusing until the circle closes and the story reveals itself. With Interstellar that’s kicked up a couple of notches. More confusing in the first part, exciting as the story starts to make sense in the last third.

Without spoiling it, Chastain is Interstellar’s most important character. This comes as a surprise, given her lack of screen time and the way the film is advertised. But the two acting standouts are Chastain and the lead, Matthew McConaughey.

Mostly, I was greatly moved by the Nolans choice to not dumb down the female contribution – to give creation and perpetuation of mankind back where it belongs. If I see it as any comment on 2001, that would be it – the Nolans clearly made an effort to give the power back to women. I’ll be forever grateful to them for that. And though I don’t see this as a perfect film – that last third is worth the price of admission.

Interstellar on Rotten Tomatoes
Interstellar on Metacritic

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I am amazed that someone in the geek culture actually grew a pair of giant hairy balls to do THIS.  I have no choice but to bow down in gratitude. Well done, monsters, well done.  Thanks to Joe Leydon for the heads up.

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In Rupert Wyatt’s brilliant first film of the series, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it was immediately clear that the filmmakers were doing two things to up the ante. 1) they brought to life unrivaled visual effects with the help of performance capture and Andy Serkis. And 2) they tried to hew as closely to plausible science as they could. That the first film takes care to insist “they aren’t monkeys, they’re apes” tells you that they intended to make a film about primates with thoughtful respect. Now, with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Matt Reeves holds true to the two ideals from the first film but expands the emotional development of the visually-enhanced characters, or if you prefer, the apes.

Finally this year, animal rights activists have helped to free the chimps from lab research, a long hard fight that has rendered many of those chimps borderline psychotic. Three animals that we know of can recognize themselves in the mirror — elephants, dolphins and chimps. Their intelligence is already way beyond what we previously imagined for them, even if it doesn’t reach the medically-elevated heights it does in these two Apes films. They get it right, though, about lab chimps in both films and hold up a mirror to humans to show us what we have become, who we still are, and the fate we may ultimately deserve.

What makes both Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes so delicious is that they get it so right. If they deviated in any way from the expected trajectory of what might happen if apes were given a drug to evolve their already advanced intelligence, these would just nothing more than your ordinary everyday animal revenge sci-fi films. But as such, they drift away from fantasy and into the realm of magical realism. There isn’t a moment in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes where you remember you’re watching computer-generated special effects. We see the apes as real characters — with an array of facial expressions, moods, emotions that rise and fall in accord with what happens around them and with whom they encounter.

We meet up with Caesar in the forest he now calls home — above the hills of the now ravaged San Francisco. Most of the human population has been wiped out by the science-gone-wrong virus but there are still clusters of survivors left. The apes, though, they don’t need anything except organization, hunting skills (spears) and each other to survive. Humans, as is pointed out in the film, need a lot more than that.

Like Rise, Dawn is at its best when we’re with the apes. The human stories simply can’t compete. Animals rule in these films in all ways. We care about them more. We’re more fascinated by them and every time they do anything it enthralls us — how could human actors compete? That brings us back to the question of what is Caesar? He asks James Franco that question in the first film and the question remains. Who is he? What is he?

More importantly, what is this new breed of film character we have yet to completely reconcile ourselves with? It isn’t pure human acting. It isn’t pure animation. It is something in between — caught in the evolution of film and visual effects that is clearly beginning to dominate. The film represents a species that is the same thing — technologically-enhanced creations who threatens to obliterate what came before. And so we must start to think about performance capture. What is it? Where will it take us? Where do we want it to take us?

In both films, music is used to build tension, though the first film probably had a better rhythm overall with its use of music to introduce to us something we have never seen before. Apes organizing. Apes thinking. Apes attacking. In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, they have a better idea of who they are. They have thought out who they want to be — what they’re about. They don’t believe in guns. They don’t want to kill. Well, as long as they’re led by a peaceful leader that’s true. They are vulnerable to a corrupt leader, who will turn their minds around and make them much more violent than they are under Caesar.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is by far the best film of 2014 so far (of those films released. I’m not counting films I saw in Cannes) and will likely end the year as one of the very best because there will be nothing else like it. Its visual effects are on another level than anything we’ve ever seen before and thus, will likely do battle with Interstellar for that prize. But without seeing Nolan’s film, it’s hard to imagine any other effects-heavy film topping Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

The film’s heart and soul is Caesar — a collaborative performance capture of Andy Serkis and the effects team working together to create someone we very much recognize. Like Gollum, of course, Caesar feels like someone we know. He manages to have charisma and watchability, even over the other apes. How on earth did they manage that?

The conflict in Dawn doesn’t seem as urgent as it did in Rise — the corruption here comes from within. But what it lacks in overall suspense it makes up for in awesome, mind-blowing action sequences of apes flying through the air, climbing towers, wielding guns, driving tanks. And even still, none of those things can compete with the quiet moments of love and reflection between the apes. If chimps are violent against one another in the wild, enhanced intelligence here has given them better organization skills to combat that erratic behavior. That is, until it doesn’t.

It is ironic that we sit in witness to this film as humans rooting against ourselves, rooting for the apes to survive and win. They’re better than us and we know it. As our own culture evolves we’re beginning to recognize how exceptional other mammals are. Sooner or later we will become fully-evolved to the point where we stop doing terrible things to them for our own benefit. For those of us who are tortured by this every day, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and its predecessor, as like a psychic massage — a way out of the burden of being part of a species that really doesn’t, on the whole, make things better for animals. Maybe one day we will evolve like the apes in this film do. Maybe we will one day be better than we are now. And then maybe they can forgive us.

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For a while now, as I just wrote about in the directors piece, the moody effects film has mostly been ignored by the Academy. There was District 9, which got a Best Picture slot when there were a solid ten nominations each voting member could submit. But when they shrunk the nomination ballots back to five for each Academy member, suddenly those five slots simply could not sacrifice a drama for a genre movie. That meant that since 2011, the Academy has mostly hewn to tradition.

Let’s clarify a little just for those who might be confused.

1945 – 2008 – the Academy had five Best Picture nominees and five slots for members to pick their favorites.

2009 – 2010 – The Academy allowed each member to choose ten nominees for Best Picture, which allowed them more freedom to pick from genre movies, movies starring women, etc.

2012 – now – The Academy shrunk the nominees back down to five so voters must only write down their favorite FIVE of the year, as opposed to their favorite ten.

Okay, now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s talk about two movies in the conversation right now – Snowpiercer and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. While the Apes movie is sure to dominate in visual effects, at least until Interstellar comes out, Snowpiercer might have an advantage in some other categories.

Snowpiercer is sitting with an 83 on Metacritic, while Dawn still has the luxury of being seen and reviewed only by only 9 people so far. Its score will likely drop somewhat as the backlash sets in. Then again, maybe it won’t. If it ends the season in the 90s on Metacritic, makes a shitload of money at the box office, it might become too big to ignore.

The question remains, can either of them make it onto the five slots voters will have for Best Picture? With five? I’m betting no way. Genre movies, or any big budget franchise, will be the first to get tossed in lieu of more traditional dramas. How many members will put either film down in the number spot come December? Or even in the five spot? There are still a few more moody genre films to come, with Interstellar chief among them.

Still, it’s nice to have great movies to see, no matter if the industry pays attention to them or not.

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While this technology is impressive, the debate about whether it’s acting continues. So much enhancement happens beyond what the actor does I’m not sure if it is. However, should the Academy embrace what’s coming next they might have separate categories for such things.

As it stands now, this movie and others like it have just the tech categories to be represented in as they’re never make the leap to the majors, most of the time anyway.

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People are seeing Godzilla — apparently in droves. Here is a place to discuss the monster movie, which has a shot at visual effects.

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It kind of seems like there’s no point to even running a contest with Gravity in the VFX department. It’s like Avatar – nothing will even get remotely close.  Nonetheless, here are the VES noms, Gravity leads with 8 nods, courtesy of Steve Pond at The Wrap:

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects-Driven Feature Motion Picture
“Gravity”: 
Tim WebberNikki PennyChris LawrenceRichard Mcbride
“Iron Man 3”: 
Christopher TownsendMark SoperGuy WilliamsBryan Grill
“Pacific Rim”:
 John KnollSusan GreenhowChris RaimoHal Hickel
“Star Trek: Into Darkness”:
 Roger GuyettLuke O’ByrneRon AmesBen Grossman
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”: Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, Kevin Sherwood, David Clayton

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BEVERLY HILLS, CA — The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that 10 films remain in the running in the Visual Effects category for the 86th Oscars®.

The films are listed below in alphabetical order:

  • Elysium
  • Gravity
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • Iron Man 3
  • The Lone Ranger
  • Oblivion
  • Pacific Rim
  • Star Trek Into Darkness
  • Thor: The Dark World
  • World War Z

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JustJared has the poster for the Brad Pitt sci-fi extravaganza, and trailer number 2, just released. “United Nations employee Gerry Lane (Pitt) traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments, and threatening to decimate humanity itself.”

Directed by Marc Forster, also starring Mireille Enos and David Morse. Hits theaters in June.

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Jeff White joined the legendary LucasFilm visual effects company Industrial Light and Magic roughly ten years ago, and has since worked on some of the biggest blockbusters of the past decade. His work spans all three Transformers movies, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, and Star Wars: Episode III “Revenge of the Sith.” During the course of those films and many others, White has worked his way up from his initial post as a Creature Technical Director on Van Helsing to being Visual Effects Supervisor on last year’s The Avengers. The adaptation of Marvel’s superhero world from acclaimed filmmaker Joss Whedon (Serenity) has already become the third-highest-grossing film of all time and received near-universal acclaim. The Visual Effects branch of the Academy has recognized White and his fellow visual effects artists with an Oscar-nomination for Best Visual Effects for the work on the film, and I recently spoke with White in celebration of his first Oscar nomination. Here’s what White shared with me about reimagining The Hulk, bringing his own ideas to light while carrying the banner of existing franchises, and assembling the team of The Avengers.

 

Jackson Truax: You’ve worked on so many massive special-effects films in the past ten years, but this is your first Oscar nomination. What does the recognition from the Visual Effects branch of the Academy mean to you at this point in your career?

 

Jeff White: It’s pretty incredible… I’m just so honored to have the work recognized… There were probably thousands of artists working on the effects. So the nomination for Best Visual Effects is really a recognition of all the great work that people put into the film.

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Life of Pi and Brave each win 4 awards at the 11th Annual VES Awards.   (thanks to Mikhail)

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects-Driven Feature Motion Picture

  • Life of Pi

Outstanding Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture

  • Brave

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature Motion Picture

  • The Impossible

Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture

  • Life of Pi: Richard Parker

Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature Motion Picture

  • Brave: Merida

Outstanding FX and Simulation Animation in a Live Action Feature Motion Picture

  • Life of Pi: Storm of God

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In December of 2011, I interviewed Joe Letteri for LivinginCinema and AwardsDaily. The four-time Oscar-winning visual effects artist took me deep into the process of crafting the characters and worlds of the Lord of the Rings films, King Kong, Avatar, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The main thing I took away from talking with Letteri was the extent to which he and the team at Weta Digital have redefined the very nature of visual effects on each of these films, and then incorporated the recent innovations into the next project while continuing to break new ground. After ten years, Letteri and the Weta team went back to Middle Earth with director Peter Jackson for a new trilogy of films based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal fantasy novel “The Hobbit.” Much has changed in the world of visual effects since the Lord of the Rings films, and Letteri and the Weta crew reinvented Middle Earth using the all-encompassing nature of designing a world through visual effects a la Avatar while capturing Andy Serkis’ Gollum using performance capture in a manner perfected on Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The new challenges were doing all of that at 48 frames-per-second while also filming in 3D. After the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,I spoke with Letteri again about his latest trip to Middle Earth, for which he has now been recognized with a seventh Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects. Here’s what Letteri shared with me about visual effects in a post-Avatar world, making a film in 3D and 48 frames-per-second, and crafting The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

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Film Review The Hobbit.JPEG

From The HR:

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects-Driven Feature Motion Picture
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Joe Letteri
Eileen Moran
Eric Saindon
Kevin L. Sherwood

Prometheus
Paul Butterworth
Charley Henley
Allen Maris
Richard Stammers

Life of Pi
Thomas Fisher
Susan Macleod
Guillaume Rocheron
Bill Westenhofer

The Avengers
Susan Pickett
Janek Sirrs
Jeff White
Guy Williams

Battleship
Grady Cofer
Pablo Helman
Jeanie King
Glen Mcintosh

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