All the Pretty Digital Pictures

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A passing glance at the list of the 10 features which made the vfx Oscar shortlist and will present 10-minute clips at the January 3 Bake-0ff is that many of them are returning champs. From Spider-Man and Batman to Gollum (The Hobbit), Snow White and Iron Man (The Avengers), we’ve all seen all these characters work their magic on the big screen before. Even Skyfall and Prometheus are also new takes on familiar franchises. That leaves us with the new kids on the block—the much- maligned John Carter, the mixed offerings of Cloud Atlas and the acclaimed Life of Pi, which opened up new doors in 3-D enchantment. Among the ones that didn’t make the cut were Men in Black 3, Ted, Battleship and Breaking Dawn, Part 2. Here’s a quick rundown of the big Bake-Off 10, listed in alphabetical order:

The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man
Studio: Sony
VFX Houses: Sony Pictures Imageworks, Pixomondo, Method, Rodeo FX
VFX Supervisor: Jerome Chen
Highlights: Marc Webb’s new take on Spidey features 1,639 vfx shots, of which SPI did 671. Shot in native stereo, the film required a CG version of the hero and a CG humanoid version of the villain. The Lizard had to be able to emote and required an under-layer of muscle with dynamically simulated reptile skin over it. “Even though the movie’s Lizard is a freshly mutated being, we still wanted its scales to look worn and imperfect, chipped, with dirt caught between them,” notes Chen. “We became so obsessed with scales, that we had to dial back so you could read his face, and gave him coloration around his eyes and mouth so you could read his expressions.” The nighttime depiction of Manhattan were heightened via the motion-controlled Spydercam.

The Avengers

The Avengers

The Avengers
Studio: Disney
VFX Houses: Industrial Light & Magic, Digital Domain, Weta Digital, Scanline, Fuel VFX, Hydraulx, Lola, The Third Floor, Trixter
VFX Supervisor:
Janek Sirrs
Highlights: ILM re-invented an awesome new CG Hulk with Mark Ruffalo as the real-life model for the green beast. Iron Man’s HUD, the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, the forest duel between Loki and Thor and the destruction of a digital New York are only a few of the many dazzling sequences of the movie, which meshed beautifully with humor, action and CG effects that are sometimes taken for granted in superhero adventures.

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas
Studio: Warner Bros.
VFX Houses: Method Studios, Scanline, Double Negative, ILM, BlueBolt, Rise, Arri
VFX Supervisor: Dan Glass
Highlights: Although the film’s big attention-grabber was the make-up effects on the players, who portrayed different characters throughout history, the CG teams at ILM, Double Negative and Method were responsible for building many of the worlds depicted in the complex sci-fi novel. Especially impressive were Method’s futuristic CG environments of Neo Seoul and its vehicles, magnetic roadways and architecture built on top of the old Korean capital.

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises
Studio: Warner Bros.
VFX Houses: Double Negative, New Deal
VFX Supervisor: Paul Franklin
Highlights: Double Negative’s work features 450 vfx shots at 4K and higher, more than double the 2K resolution of effects produced for most movies made today. One of the film’s most memorable sequences involved the incremental collapse of a football field as a player runs towards the audience. As Chris Corbould, special effects supervisor notes, “We did something like 80 explosions, which set the scene for the CGI people to take over and manipulate it into a great big crater. We had 12,000 people who turned up, just to watch the filming. We expected them all to get bored and disappear at lunchtime but they were all still there at 7 p.m.!”

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Studio: Warner Bros.
VFX Houses: Weta Digital, ILM
VFX Supervisors: Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon
Highlights: The vfx team had to work twice as hard to prepare the world of Middle-earth for 3-D stereoscopy and the new 48 fps format. Gollum and the other digital creatures of the new film were depicted with more clarity and realism than ever before. Among the many impressive 2,176 vfx shots are the depiction of three  mountain trolls, a grotesque Goblin King, rabbits, hedgehogs, eagles, numerous Orc models and goblins that populate Tolkien’s magical landscapes.

John Carter

John Carter

John Carter
Studio: Disney
VFX Houses: Double Negative, Cinesite, MPC, Legacy
VFX Supervisor: Peter Chiang
Highlights: The fantastic world of the Red Planet, featuring the alien tribe of Tharks, came to life thanks to the efforts of Chiang and company. Among the 831 shots created by Cinesite are overhead shots of the city/state of Zodanga, the cathedral-like glass city of Helium chases, and the complex nano-technology matrix of Thern. Also memorable were Woola, Carter’s bulldog like Martian pet, and the white ape fight scenes.

Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Life of Pi
Studio: Fox
VFX Houses: Rhythm & Hues, Moving Picture Company, Legacy, Crazy Horse, BUF, Look FX, Halon, Lola
VFX Supervisor: Bill Westenhofer
Highlights: The main attraction is Richard Parker, the amazing CG-animated Bengal tiger, which is creating by combining 23 real shots of the beast around the lifeboat, and 148 CG sequences. R&H used high-end technology to create the hair, the lighting, the muscle and skin system. Overall, 450 vfx shots were produced to depict the film’s other animals, stunning landscapes, ocean, storm and sinking ship.

Prometheus

Prometheus

Prometheus
Studio: Fox
VFX Houses: Weta Digital, Method, MPC, Fuel, Rising Sun, Hammerhead, Lola, Luma
VFX Supervisor: Richard Stammers
Highlights: Weta Digital was behind everything from the alien attacks, the unforgettable self-surgery sequence, and the photoreal Engineer’s ritualistic suicide to shot-for-shot digital doubles in Ridley Scott’s quasi-prequel to Alien. Fuel VFX gave us the very cool 3-D star map discovered by David, the Weyland Corporation android, inside the Engineers’ spacecraft control room. The titular spaceship was digitally brought to life by MPC, which also delivered most of the outerspace environment, the planet surface, the Engineer’s ship, the Hammerpede creature and the nasty eye-worm effects. Let’s not forget the very impressive climactic scene in which the Engineer attacks most of the Prometheus crew.

Skyfall

Skyfall

Skyfall
Studio: MGM/Columbia
VFX Houses: Double Negative, Cinesite, Lola, BlueBolt, MPC
VFX Supervisor: Steve Begg
Highlights: Not only is the 50th anniversary edition of Ian Fleming’s super-agent distinguished by its dark tone and Daniel Craig’s very worldly demeanor, it’s also notable for being the first film in the franchise to feature a CG-animated Komodo dragon. Using a real dragon filmed at the London Zoo, the wizards at Cinesite mixed old-school effects with new technologies to create a threatening beast that would leave Bond shaken and stirred. Cinesite also worked on the sequence in which Bond and bad guy Silva slide down the escalator in the underground, as well as that remarkable explosion which leads to the train crash through the ceiling.

Snow White and the Huntsman

Snow White and the Huntsman

Snow White and the Huntsman
Studio: Universal
VFX Houses: Rhythm & Hues, Pixomondo, The Mill, Lola
VFX Supervisors: Phil Brennan, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Highlights: This inventive new take on the familiar Grimm fairy tale served up a smorgasbord of clever effects, including enchanted forest creatures, CG fairies, an unusual bridge troll, magpies, ravens, dark forest creatures, a shadow army, the liquid metal Mirror Man, and an evil queen who ages rapidly before our eyes. After all, you need all the help you can get to make audiences forget about Disney’s 1937 animated classic.