Will the Pirates Team Steal Academy’s VFX Golden Booty?
By Barbara Robertson
Last year, it seemed impossible to imagine how visual effects voters could
choose three films from all the amazing visual effects. This year we do
have wonderful effects, effects that enhance the story without overwhelming
the story. But, amazing effects? Um, not so much. Except, of course, for
Davy Jones, Eragon, Angel, Superman, giant waves of water, explosions,
digital cities, African animals, and miniature cowboys.
Do you think we’re taking too much for granted? We might be, but
the Executive Committee for the Visual Effects Branch of the Academy of
Motion Pictures Arts & Science isn’t. They honored seven films
with amazing visual effects by giving the crews a chance to compete for
an Oscar nomination at the annual bakeoff in January.
The effects include a return to traditional roots with in-camera work
for Casino Royale as well as the most state-of-the-art digital work—in
Pirates for characters, and Poseidon for water. Also sparking the list:
Digital mutants (X-Men, Pirates), digital animals (Eragon,
Night at the Museum) and a digital double (Superman)
who proved CG is ready for its bullet-proof close up. Here’s the
bakeoff list in alphabetical order:
Royale Studio: Sony/MGM Director: Martin Campbell VFX Supervisor: Steve Begg VFX Shops: Peerless Camera Company, Moving Picture
Company. Common Wisdom: The usual if somewhat more brutal
fare of Bondian explosions and stunts shaken but not stirred helped
turn this film in a thriller. The film tracks Bond’s early days
and, fittingly, it was created, as were visual effects in the early
days, primarily in camera using real explosions, stuntmen on wires,
and a touch of greenscreen. Could appeal to the dry martini traditionalists
in the bakeoff crowd. (And let’s hear it for that dazzling CG-animated
opening credit sequence either!)
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Director: Stefan Fangmeier VFX Supervisor: Samir Hoon (ILM) VFX Shops: Industrial Light & Magic, Tatopoulos
Studios, Weta Digital, Café FX, Cinesite, Digital Dream. Common Wisdom: ILM raises a dragon from hatchling
into a femme fatale warrior as she comes of age side by side with
a young boy. Weta transforms the digital reptilian teenager into an
adult and sends her into battle against a smoky evil digital creature.
The iridescent blue CG dragon couldn’t save the spare, derivative
story written by a teenager from the sophisticated adult critics,
but she did save an empire in the story and soared into a legendary
position in the Oscar race.
at the Museum Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Director: Shawn Levy VFX Supervisor: Jim Rygiel VFX Shops: Rhythm & Hues, Weta Digital, Rainmaker,
Maestro FX, New Deal Studios, The Orphanage. Common Wisdom: Prehistoric animals that come alive,
an army of tiny cowboys in miniature realistic environments, and a
visual effects supervisor with three Oscars under his belt promised
that this film, one of the final treats of the season, would be exhibiting
its magic at the bakeoff. Rhythm & Hues (Narnia), Weta
(Lord of the Rings) and Rainmaker (The Da Vinci Code,
She’s the Man) have done it all before, but this time,
they moved the effects with comic timing. Could be enough variation
on the theme to extend this crew’s happy holidays into Oscar
of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Studio: Walt Disney Pictures Director: Gore Verbinski VFX Supervisor: John Knoll (ILM), Charles Gibson
(additional) VFX Shops: Industrial Light & Magic; additional
vfx: Asylum, The Orphanage, CIS Hollywood, Evil Eye Pictures, Gentle
Giant Studios, Pacific Title & Art Studio, Method, Proof, Tippett
Studio Common Wisdom: Even CG mavens were fooled into thinking
that Davy Jones was Bill Nighy wearing makeup and rubber tentacles.
The fact that he’s 100% digital should send this billion-dollar
box office baby all the way to a nomination. Plus, there’s Davy’s
crew of digital half-human pirates all motion captured with ILM’s
new, director-friendly technology, a giant thrashing sea monster,
pirate ships with billowing sails that were sometimes models, sometimes
full-scale sets, sometimes digital, and an island largely created
by matte painters. Say, “Eye, eye, Cap’n!” for this
one. Davy Jones’ all-digital eyes, that is.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures Director: Wolfgang Petersen VFX Supervisor: Boyd Shermis VFX Shops: Industrial Light & Magic, The Moving
Picture Company, CA Scanline Production GmbH; CIS Hollywood, Hydraulx,
Gentle Giant Studios, Lola Visual Effects, Giant Killer Robots,
Pixel Playground. Common Wisdom: Will it matter that the most sophisticated
fluid simulation programs on the planet combined to sink this luxury
liner and flood the ship’s interior with fire and water? ILM’s
software developed with Stanford University, and The Moving Picture
Company’s code combined with Scanline’s fluid sims made
it possible for Petersen to create his next gen water disaster film.
ILM’s digital ship allowed actor Josh Lucas to lap the deck
during a long opening shop. Can it swim to the top with effects
voters even though audiences didn’t stream into the theaters?
The theory may hold water.
Returns Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures Director: Bryan Singer VFX Supervisor: Mark Stetson VFX Studios: Sony Pictures Imageworks, Framestore
CFC, Rhythm & Hues, Rising Sun Pictures, The Orphanage, Photon
VFX, Frantic Films, Lola Visual Effects, Pixel Liberation Front, Eden
FX, New Deal Studios Common Wisdom: It seems so long ago that Superman
caught a Boeing 777 with a fiery space shuttle on its back and brought
it to a gentle stop in a baseball stadium, stopped a bullet with his
steely blue eyes, battled Lex Luther, and nearly died from kryptonite
poisoning—but it was only seven months ago! Sony Imageworks’
close-up shots of digital Superman flying through downtown Metropolis,
Rhythm & Hues water rescue, Rising Sun’s young Clark Kent
leap through the fields, The Orphanage’s bank heist, and Frantic
Film’s crystals could power this film into a nomination.
The Last Stand Studio: Twentieth Century Fox; Director: Brett Ratner VFX Supervisor: John Bruno VFX Shops: Hydraulx,
Weta Digital, The Moving Picture Company, Lola Visual Effects, Framestore
CFC, Cinesite, Soho VFX, CIS Hollywood, Kleiser-Walczak, Pacific
Title & Art Studio, G Creative Solutions, New Deal Studios Common Wisdom: The short production schedule caused
vfx supe John Bruno to do as many effects in-camera as he could,
something he prefers anyway. Even so, it took a dozen visual effects
studios to handle a battle on Alcatraz (Weta), Angel’s wings
(Framestore CFC), and all the mutations for these better than human
characters. Lola Visual Effects stepped out of the shadows and admitted
de-aging Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Sir Ian McKellen)
in 99 shots. Bruno managed the mix with masterful competence, which
might be richly rewarded.
No Love from
the Golden Guy? Charlotte’s Web’s wonderful spider, rat, crows and
talking animals. Too much like Babe, perhaps, but they were Some
Effects. The almost indie films The Fountain and Pan’s
Labyrinth with beautiful but perhaps not-state-of-the-art effects.
Mission Impossible III—go figure (is everyone still sick
of Tom Cruise?). One always gets away, or maybe two: Flags of our
Fathers – perhaps the voters had seen one too many war movies.
Other coulda been a contenders: Flyboys, The Da Vinci Code,
Invincible, V for Vendetta. Look for shots from many
of these films in the Visual Effects Society competition.