Following several rounds of voting by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, there are now 10 movies in contention for the Best Visual Effects Academy Award at the 2017 Oscars – ‘Arrival’, ‘The BFG’, ‘Captain America: Civil War’, ‘Deepwater Horizon’, ‘Doctor Strange’, ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’, ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’, ‘Passengers’, and ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’.
These 10 will be whittled down to 5 ahead of the final nominations announcement on 24 January, with ‘Rogue One’ and ‘The Jungle Book’ considered the frontrunners to scoop the top honour, won last year by ‘Ex Machina’.
To help get the inside track on which movies deserve to win, we spoke with 5 VFX gurus – all alumni of Escape Studios, Europe’s premier visual effects academy and host of The VFX Festival 2017 – who chose five films which truly broke new ground in 2016.
‘The Jungle Book’ – Chosen by Ricardo Musch, Compositing Supervisor at Darkside Studios London
The live action ‘The Jungle Book’, one of 5 Disney films shortlisted in the final 10, brought Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale to life with a seamless blend of live action and photo-real CGI. The bulk of the film was shot on a soundstage in LA with Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) interacting with performance captured characters in green screen environments before MPC (London-based VFX firm Moving Picture Company) and Weta Digital created the world around him.
“A VFX Oscar should be for something that hasn’t been done before,” says Musch, “Mowgli sitting on a furry CG Baloo’s belly in a CG river in a CG jungle, and making this look real, that is definitely new.”
‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ – Chosen by Nick Van Diem, Senior Creature Technical Director at ILM
December’s standalone ‘Star Wars’ flick is rightly being cited as a breakthrough in VFX for its stunning digital recreations of old characters including Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin and a younger Princess Leia. The work was carried out by Industrial Light and Magic, Lucasfilm’s in-house VFX team, so it’s no surprise that Van Diem wanted to blow the company trumpet.
“There are so many beautiful shots in so many amazing films this year but I’m a huge ‘Star Wars’ fan so I would have to say my favourite VFX scene for 2016 is the big reveal of Grand Moff Tarkin in ‘Rogue One’,” explains Van Diem.
“I think had Peter been alive today, he would have been really happy with the detail we meticulously represented in his shots. We spent a lot of time studying his facial nuances to ensure the character we were bringing to life today, was the same character we all knew and loved from the past. There is at least one scene where the lighting is just right, the motion capture and animation is brilliant, and the shaders are responding perfectly, making it really difficult to fault.
“It’s more than just a visual VFX scene, it’s pixels packed with emotional historical connection. We showed restraint and respect to a great actor who has had the opportunity to help link the new generation of Star Wars with the old. I couldn’t be more proud of that. In my opinion, a great success by everyone involved.”
‘Deadpool’ – Chosen by Dave Throssell, VFX Supervisor at Fluid Pictures
It was a leaked visual effects reel that finally convinced 20th Century Fox to greenlight Ryan Reynolds and Tim Miller’s R-rated vision for ‘Deadpool’, so it’s no surprise that the VFX industry rightly considers its seamless, photoreal CGI some of the best of the year. Atomic Fiction did much of the work building the freeway environment in which Deadpool catches up with Francis, but it was Blur Studio who created the film’s iconic freeze frame titles lauded by Throssell.
“The most memorable VFX was the title sequence for Deadpool. Created with a huge amount of skill, coupled with laugh out loud self referential text,” said Throssell.
‘Doctor Strange’ – Chosen by Davi Stein, Head of Compositing for VFX at Escape Studios
Scott Derrickson’s post-summer blockbuster promised to unlock new dimensions previously unseen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it delivered in spades. Each action sequence had a completely different style and structure, with cities, buildings, and eventually time and space being bent at will on the screen, all while the real-life actors including Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton battled dark forces.
“I was so impressed with all of the innovative VFX of the nominees,” says Stein, “I am thinking ‘Doctor Strange’ is going to be a winner. It’s fantastical cutting edge CG environments with the live action plates was an impressive integration to propel the story-line.”
‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’ – Chosen by Alan Stucchi, Digital Compositor at Double Negative
The sequel to Tim Burton’s billion dollar-grossing 2010 hit may not have matched its predecessor’s box office gross, but it certainly surpassed it in terms of the visual execution. New environments such as Time’s clocktower were eye-poppingly rendered in beautiful 3D, transporting audiences into a technicolour fantasy world unlike any other, while the “rusting” sequence was truly breathtaking.
Alan says, “the VFX environment is fantastic, it is beautifully thought and planned and even better executed.”
The VFX Festival 2017 takes place at Rich Mix in London, from 7-9 February. Tickets are available to buy now from www.thevfxfestival.com.