Up in the Air

With Oscar’s picks for VFX in recent years running a wide gaunt, the race for  this year’s trophy is a wide open race with everything from traditional space drama to heartfelt children’s tales.

Anyone who thinks the visual effects Oscars race is the one area where the mega blockbusters take home the gold need to rethink that premise. Recent years have seen the gold trophy going home more often with films that use effects in new and inventive ways, emphasizing quality over quantity.

Last year’s win for Ex Machina was one of the true upsets of the evening, throwing for a loop Oscar pools that had bet heavily on industry favorite Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which had dominated at the VES Awards.

This year’s picture is even more tricky, with a raft of superhero blockbusters making obvious candidates, and The Jungle Book posing a clear challenge that has a good chance of appealing to voters as an alternative.

That said, there’s a lot of mysteries still waiting to be seen — including another Star Wars movie.

Let the race begin!

The Frontrunners

THE JUNGLE BOOK

The Jungle Book

Disney

Release Date: April 15

Box Office: $966 million worldwide ($364 million U.S.)

Director: Jon Favreau

VFX supervisors: Rob Legato, Adam Valdez, Charley Henley (MPC), Dan Lemmon (Weta), Keith Miller (Weta), Joe Letteri (Weta)

Effects Studios: MPC, Weta Digital, Digital Domain

Behind the Scenes: Favreau turned to Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Rob Legato (Hugo, Titanic) to spearhead the movie in collaboration with MPC, which did the majority of CG characters and environments; and Weta Digital, which handled King Louie and the other primates — not surprising, given its King Kong and Planet of the Apes pedigree. Legato was thrilled to use the best that virtual production has to offer with some new tech wrinkles to work more quickly, efficiently and believably, as though they were shooting a live-action movie.

Awards Chances: The surprise hit of the year, The Jungle Book defied expectations for what a completely virtual live-action re-imagining of a classic animated feature could be like. The technical work pushes the envelope in both scope and in style, creating with cutting edge tools something that’s completely convincing and totally delightful.

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Doctor Strange

Marvel Studios

Release Date: Nov. 4

Box Office: $574 million worldwide ($184 million U.S.) as of Nov. 22

Director: Scott Derrickson

VFX supervisor: Stephane Ceretti

Effects Studios: ILM, Base FX, Framestore, Method Studios, Luma Pictures, Rise Visual Effects, Lola VFX, Crafty Apes, Perception, Technicolor VFX, Exceptional Minds, Animal Logic, The Secret Lab.

Behind the Scenes: But the biggest set piece – the most visually complex of any Marvel movie thus far – is a confrontation between Strange and Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) in New York, which was inspired by M.C. Escher, who also inspired Inception. Industrial Light & Magic handled the sequence, supervised by Richard Bluff, with more ambition than Inception. “We’ve seen bending buildings, we’ve seen folding, but what we haven’t seen was the fracturing of a city and the introduction of mass duplication on a mathematical level and infinitely complex fractals,” he said.

Awards Chances: Of all this year’s major comic-book movies, the effects in Doctor Strange were the most inventive and fun. The movie defies the conventions of the superhero genre — now well established by nearly 20 years of successes — a feature that should put it at the front of the pack and in line to cast a spell over the nominating voters.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Lucasfilm-Disney

Release Date: Dec. 16

Director: Gareth Edwards

VFX supervisor: John Knoll

Effects Studios: ILM

Behind the Scenes: We don’t know much yet about the vfx process for Rogue One, as Disney is keeping the movie — as it did last year with The Force Awakens — under tight wraps ahead of its Dec. 16 release date. We do know that ILM VFX supervisor John Knoll suggested the idea for the movie — about a team of Rebel agents who are tasked with stealing the Death Star plans that were the major plot point in the original 1977 movie — and that fan reaction to the limited footage so far released in trailers and featurettes has been quite excited.

Awards Chances: Star Wars movies don’t always have the kind of luck in the Oscars race that you would think the series that invented modern VFX would have. The prequel trilogy went home empty handed and last year’s entry, The Force Awakens, did well in nearly every effects award category except the Oscars. That said, never underestimate the love for Star Wars, especially if this experimental new take on the classic series strikes critical gold.

The Serious Contenders

Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Warner Bros.

Release Date: March 25

Box Office: $873 million worldwide ($330 million U.S.)

Director: Zack Snyder

VFX supervisor: John “DJ” DesJardin

Effects Studios: Moving Picture Company, ScanlineVFX, Weta Digital, Double Negative, Method Studios, Shade VFX, Perception, Teamworks Digital, The Resistance,

Awards Chances: Much derided by critics and fans for its dank take on the typically sunny world of Superman, the effects of Dawn of Justice are impossible to ignore. Yes, the film is dark — it’s supposed to be — but the super heroic antics of the Man of Steel facing down the Dark Knight, with Wonder Woman chipping in for good measure, is a spectacular achievement.

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Captain America: Civil War

Marvel Studios

Release Date: May 6

Box Office: $1.15 billion worldwide ($408 million U.S.)

Director: Joe and Anthony Russo

VFX supervisor: Dan Deleeuw

Effects Studios: ILM, Rise Visual Effects, Double Negative, Luma Pictures, Lola VFX, Cinesite, Cantina, Sarofsky, Animal Logic, Crafty Apes, Image Engine Design, Technicolor VFX, Capital T, Exceptional Minds

Awards Chances: On the other side of the comic-book fanboy aisle is a movie full of the refined effects that have come to define Marvel Studios’ extraordinarily successful cinematic universe. Packed to the rim with superheroes of all stripes, Civil War brings the characters’ diverse powers to vivid life in hugely entertaining sequences.

deadpool

Deadpool

Fox

Release Date: Feb. 12

Box Office: $782 million worldwide ($363 million U.S.)

Director: Tim Miller

VFX supervisor: Jonathan Rothbart

Effects Studios: Digital Domain, Atomic Fiction, Rodeo FX, Luma Pictures, Blur Studio, Weta Digital, OllinVFX, Image Engine Design, Furious FX

Awards Chances: Another superhero hit, this one with a darker edge that fit the character, a mangled superpowers assassin with a smart mouth who just wants to be loved. This film and its effects gleefully embraced the insanity of its premise and took the visuals to extremes in the slow-mo truck shooting sequence, for example. While its rough edges may not earn it invitation to tea from some Academy members, the effects are too good to ignore.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Warner Bros.

Release Date: Nov. 18

Box Office: $226 million worldwide ($81 million U.S.) as of Nov. 22

Director: David Yates

VFX supervisor: Tim Burke, Christian Manz

Effects Studios: Framestore, Double Negative, MPC, Rodeo FX, Method Studios, Image Engine, Cinesite, Milk Visual Effects, Secret Lab

Awards Chances: With a return to the world of Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts injects a good dose of whimsy into the race. The academy has always been kind to the Potter franchise, and the excellent creature work here could carry over that favor to the prequel.

A MONSTER CALLS

A Monster Calls

Focus Features

Release Date: Dec. 23

Director: J.A. Bayona

VFX supervisor: Félix Bergés

Effects Studios: DDT Efectos Especiales, MPC, El Ranchito VFX, Glassworks Barcelona, Miopa Efectos Visuales, Headless, Magicon Munich, Lampost Minimo VFX,

Awards Chances: This is exactly the kind of spoiler film awards watchers should be on guard for. This heartfelt movie relies very heavily on creating a realistic, sympathetic and not-too-scary creature for the story’s young protagonist to pour out his heart too. And it works, positioning this movie as the spoiler to watch.

STAR TREK BEYOND

Star Trek Beyond

Paramount

Release Date: July 22

Box Office: $343 million worldwide ($184 million U.S.)

Director: Justin Lin

VFX supervisor: Peter Chiang

Effects Studios: Atomic Fiction, Clear Angle Studios, Double Negative, Rodeo FX, Mist VFX Studio, Prime Focus.

Awards Chances: Star Trek movies have rarely earned much awards love despite their huge success, but the third entry in the reboot improved impressively on the previous two movies, with effects delivering the most thrilling version to date of the Trek movie staple of destroying the Enterprise.

Warcraft

Warcraft

Universal

Release Date: June 10

Box Office: $433 million worldwide ($47 million U.S.)

Director: Duncan Jones

VFX supervisor: Bill Westenhofer, Jeff White, Jason Smith

Effects Studios: ILM, Hybride Technologies, Rodeo FX, Base FX, El Ranchito, Volta, fx3x, Virtuos

Awards Chances: This game-based movie made a huge splash overseas, with its effects taking fine advantage of exploiting the potential this extremely popular game presented. The visual thrills make this movie a bit of an outlier, but its innovative approaches are just the kind of thing that could appeal to the more technical-minded members of the VFX branch.

Don’t Count Them Out

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Alice Through the Looking Glass

Disney

Release Date: May 27

Box Office: $299 million worldwide ($77 million U.S.)

Director: James Bobin

VFX supervisors: Ken Ralston and Jay Redd

Effects Studios: Sony Pictures Imageworks.

ARRIVAL

Arrival

Paramount

Release Date: Nov. 11

Box Office: $56 million worldwide ($45 million U.S) as of Nov. 22.

Director: Dennis Villeneuve

VFX supervisor: Meggie Cabral

Effects Studios: Framestore, Rodeo FX, Oblique FX, Hybride Technologies, Reynault FX, Alchemy 24, MELS Visual Effects, Folks, Fly Studio

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The BFG

Disney

Release Date: July 1

Box Office: $178 million worldwide ($55 million U.S.)

Director: Steven Spielberg

VFX supervisor: Joe Letteri, Guy Williams

Effects Studios: Weta Digital.

Gertrude the Ghost in Columbia Pictures' GHOSTBUSTERS.

Ghostbusters

Sony/Columbia

Release Date: July 15

Box Office: $229 million worldwide ($128 million U.S.)

Director: Paul Feig

VFX supervisor: Peter G. Travers

Effects Studios: Sony Pictures Imageworks

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Pete’s Dragon

Disney

Distributor: Buena Vista

Release Date: Aug. 12

Box Office: $142 million worldwide ($76 million U.S.)

Director: David Lowery

VFX supervisor: Eric Saindon

Effects Studios: Weta Digital, Double Negative, Crafty Apes, Exceptional Minds, Peerless Digital Imaging.

SuicideSquad

Suicide Squad

Warner Bros.

Release Date: Aug. 5

Box Office: $745 million worldwide ($420 million U.S.)

Director: David Ayers

VFX supervisor: Jerome Chen

Effects Studios: Digital Domain, Lola Visual Effects, Mammal Studios, Mist VFX Studio, MPC, ScanlineVFX, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Applied Arts FX Studio.

VoyageOfTime

Voyage of Time

IMAX

Release Date: Oct. 7

Box Office: $55,000 worldwide

Director: Terrence Malick

VFX supervisor: Dan Glass

Effects Studios: Method Studios, Double Negative, One of Us, Locktix.

x-men

X-Men: Apocalypse

Fox

Release Date: May 27

Box Office: $544 million worldwide ($155 million U.S.)

Director: Bryan Singer

VFX supervisor: John Dykstra

Effects Studios: Cinesite, Digital Domain, Exceptional Minds, Hydraulx, Legacy Effects, Lola Visual Effects, MELS, MPC, Rising Sun Pictures, Solid FX. #