10 Visual Stunners
An Overview of the VFX Oscar Race
An overview of the VFX Oscar race.
If you thought handicapping the visual effects race was a tough task in previous years, wait until you try to narrow down the 2021 award season contenders. To be considered, the features need to have been released between Jan. 1, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2020 — and of course, because of the pandemic, films that were originally scheduled for a theatrical run and instead launched on streaming or video on demand are also eligible. That said, here are 10 of the features that are most likely to nab a nomination in March, in alphabetical order: Birds of Prey (Warner Bros)
VFX Supervisors: Thrain Shadbolt, Kevin Souls
Vendors: Weta Digital, Method Studios, Crafty Apes, Luma Pictures Director: Cathy Yan
Notes: Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Huntress, Black Canary and Renee Montoya team up to take down Gotham’s narcissistic villain Roman Sionis and his right hand Victor Zsasz in this bright-colored, surreal vision of Gotham. VFX highlights include Harley’s CG hyena, Gotham sets and lots of beautifully choreographed fight scenes.
Greyhound (Apple TV+)
VFX Supervisors: Nathan McGuinness, Pete Bebb (DNEG)
Number of Shots: About 1,500
Director: Aaron Schneider
Notes: This tale of a WWII navy captain who guards a merchant ship convoy across the Atlantic involved numerous ship and submarine shots, creating challenging ocean sims and recreating scenes aboard the U.S.S. Kidd and building the ocean around it after the principal photography had wrapped.
The Invisible Man (Universal)
VFX Supervisor: Jonathan Dearing
Vendor: Cutting Edge
Number of Shots: 350
Director: Leigh Whannell
Notes: Among the feature’s challenging visual effects were a well-choreographed fight scene with an invisible assailant, an invisibility suit, lots of green-suit action, use of a digital double and clean-up work to help the audience feel an invisible threat to the film’s lead character, portrayed by Elizabeth Moss.
VFX Supervisors: David Fincher, Peter Mavromates
Vendors: Artemple, Territory Studio, Savage, ILM
Director: David Fincher
Notes: Lots of invisible effects and recreation was required for this meticulously crafted period pic which imagines events in the life of Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. The well-reviewed pic showcases stunning black-and-white deep-focus photography which pays homage to the films of the era, big sky recreation, CG monkey, elephants, giraffes and shrubbery of San Simeon and stunning matte paintings by Artemple for Louis B. Mayer’s birthday party scene.
The Midnight Sky (Netflix)
VFX Supervisors: Matt Kasmir, Shawn Hillier, Mark Bakowski
Vendors: Framestore, Industrial Light & Magic, Instinctual VFX, Nviz, One of Us
Number of Shots: 650
Director: George Clooney
Notes: This well-mounted futuristic sci-fi was lauded for its detailed attention to how characters move in zero gravity, as well as a stunning depiction of blood spillage in space, digital glass work and spacesuits, LED walls, spaceships and CG face replacements.
VFX Supervisors: Sean Andrew Faden Vendors: ILM, Crafty Apes, Framestore, Image Engine, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Weta Digital
Number of Shots: About 2,000
Director: Niki Caro
Notes: Stunning battle sequences featuring thousands of digital soldiers and horses (only 67 real-life horses and 80 dressed soldiers were actually on set), set expansions, recreation of Imperial City, a visually stunning avalanche sequence, some CG help for the airborne martial arts scenes, witch transformations and a digital phoenix sidekick are only some of the VFX highlights of this live-action take on the Disney 2D classic.
The One and Only Ivan (Disney+)
VFX Supervisors: Nick Davis, Ben Jones
Vendors: MPC, Technicolor
Number of Shots: Around 1,100
Director: Thea Sharrok
Notes: At the heart of this movie are its cast of beautifully rendered, CG-animated characters. Its lead, a 400-pound gorilla, a scruffy terrier, an elephant, a poodle, a chicken and a parrot are depicted naturalistically while having highly expressive faces. The virtual production process started with Black Box rehearsals with puppeteers and a motion-capture performance artist for Ivan. A majority of the backdrops for the animals and the human actors were CG environments.
Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)
VFX Supervisor: Ged Wright
Vendors: MPC, Blur Studio, Trixter, Digital Domain, Marza Animation Planet, Shade VFX, EFilm
Number of Shots: 1,300
Director: Jeff Fowler
Notes: Sega’s popular blue hedgehog appears in 800 of the total VFX shots, created by MPC and Marza Animation Planet. The filmmakers brought in illustrator Tyson Hesse to help with the redesign of the title character, which has beautiful blue fur and expressive eyes. Among the VFX highlights is a high-speed chase between the villainous Dr. Robotnik and Sonic. Critics admired the way the CG character blends in and interacts with the live-action components of the movie.
Tenet (Warner Bros.)
VFX Supervisor: Andrew Jackson Vendor: DNEG
Number of Shots: Under 300
Director: Christopher Nolan
Notes: This futuristic mind-bender from Nolan has much fewer digital VFX shots than some of the director’s previous work, since he preferred to use in-camera practical effects. The production even purchased a real Boeing 747 so that Nolan could blow it up on camera. Nearly all of the film’s sequences were shot using IMAX cameras. Among the biggest scenes: a car crash, reversing bullets, a collapsing building, helicopters and some forwards and backwards time moments.
Wonder Woman 1984 (Warner Bros)
VFX Supervisor: John Moffatt
Vendors: DNEG, Framestore, Method Studios, The Third Floor, Gentle Giant
Director: Patty Jenkins
Notes: Although the sequel got mixed reviews and divided audiences, it’s hard not to commend the filmmaker’s love for retro effects. Lots of weightless wirework (reminiscent of the Richard Donner Superman movies), digital doubles, Wonder Woman’s killer Icarus flying suit, the golden Lasso of Truth at work on a flying plane, and a climactic fight scene with the villain Jaguar were among the film’s rewarding VFX moments. ◆