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Entries in Visual FX (67)

Friday
Dec052014

Oscar's FX Finalists: From Bucky to Bilbo

MURPH !!!!!!!

The Visual effects Oscar finalists have been announced after that branches bake-off ritual wherein they screen visual effects reels from various films. Ten films remains standing but only five can become Oscar nominees so it's superheroes vs. mutated monsters vs aliens vs. hobbits vs giant fucking robits vs. maimed fairies for that coveted honor.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Godzilla
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Interstellar
Maleficent
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Transformers: Age of Extinction
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Other than Maleficent the female led fx hits all missed the cut from Lucy to Mockingjay Part 1 through longshots like Divergent. Critically panned mainstream movies like Into the Storm and Amazing Spider-Man 2 also didn't make it. Perhaps more surprisingly Oscar-hopefuls like Noah, Birdman and Into the Woods were also discarded. (Maybe the visual effects branch also didn't understand what was happening to the Witch in her final scene?) But the missing film we'll shed a tear for is TFE's endorsed visual effects contender Under the Skin. But then this branch never listens to us. Our suspicion is they don't view their own specialty as an art -- because they continually avoid emotionally expressive stylized vfx work - but view it as a technical craft with the two and only goals being first large-scale spectacle and second, computer generated versimilitude. 

May the best effects become Oscar nominees on January 15th and by best we mean the Apes, the good Captain, Interstellar and Godzilla. Certainly three of those are likely to make it but my beloved Winter Soldier is a longshot with those infuratingly ubiquitous hobbits and transformers being renewed for so many seasons over the years. 

What do you think the five nominees will be and who do you think deserves the win? It's a tough call with so many great looking films around. 

Thursday
Dec042014

PETER PAN LIVE! Live Blog with Margaret & Anne Marie

ANNE MARIE: Good evening, Lost Boys & Girls. Anne Marie here with the ever-youthful Margaret to live-blog NBC's Peter Pan Live! Or it would be live, but Los Angeles does everything on a delay, so instead it's a late-blog three hours after the original event began.

MARGARET: Thank goodness they don't do this with the Oscars.

ANNE MARIE: A word on my credentials: Like millions of children, I was basically raised on the Mary Martin/Cyril Ritchard broadcast. Until I was six, I thought I was going to grow up to be Peter Pan. I've also been in it, designed for it, and seen the Cathy Rigby version (twice).  Oh, and for actual credentials, I have a minor in theater and have stage managed in LA for six years. I also liveblogged The Sound of Music Live! last year. This isn't my first trip to Neverland, is what I'm saying. 

MARGARET: While I haven't Anne Marie's technical background, I also grew up a huge fan of the Mary Martin production. My copy was taped from a TV broadcast on an ancient VHS (look it up, kids) and I watched it so much I memorized the commercials. Since I am also a great fan of (1) celebrities looking uncomfortable and (2) anything with a strong potential for disaster, tonight's entertainment is right up my alley. I hope I'm not alone in that.

ANNE MARIE: If you're on the East Coast, check in with us and think back on fond memories made just three hours ago. If you're on the West Coast, follow along as we experience childhood anew. If you're in one of the middle states, then you're kinda like the Lost Boys: nobody pays attention to you and we spend a lot of time flying over your head. 

Are you ready? OFF TO NEVERLAND!

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Dec022014

Team FYC: Under the Skin for Visual Effects

Editor's Note: For the next ten days, we'll be featuring individual Team Experience FYC's for various longshots in the Oscar race. We'll never repeat a film or category so we hope you enjoy the variety. And if you're lucky enough to be an AMPAS, HFPA, SAG, Critics Group voter, take note! Here's Amir on Under the Skin.

Generally speaking, if you drop the adjective Best and replace it with Most, you come to a better understanding of what the Academy Awards are often about.”

That statement is taken from Nick Davis’ review of The Lives of Others written several years ago, but it’s a sentiment I have not only shared, but have come to recognize as the defining element of my relationship with the Oscars, responsible for the bulk of my disagreements with their choices. Nick called the application of his theory to the visual effects category “self-explanatory” and it’s hard to disagree with him. How often do we find nominees in this category that subtly work their visual effects into the narrative? Filmmakers who employ effects as a storytelling device rather than a show-stopping juggernaut of colors and flying objects? This isn’t to say that some worthy work hasn’t been rewarded in the process. No one can argue with the impressive quality of what is on display in Gravity, but the emphasis is on “on display.” Visual effects in Cuaron’s films are equivalent to an oiled up body in a tight thong, flexing muscles in your face, and that type of “most” visual effects is what the Academy has come to reward repeatedly, even when the results aren’t quite as impressive or innovative, which brings me to this year.

None of the films that are bound to be nominated in this category will have imagery that is as iconic or memorable as the understated work in Under the Skin.  Yet, Jonathan Glazer’s masterpiece – his third from three tries – faces two very big hurdles on its road to nomination. First, the film isn’t in the Academy’s wheelhouse or likely to get any other nominations. Second, that the visual effects aren’t showy. In the words of its VFX supervisor, Dominic Parker, the techniques “are supporting the film, not the main event.”  

Technically, Under the Skin isn’t doing anything that Kubrick didn’t do fifty years ago; one particular sequence – the disintegration of one of Alien’s preys, which is the only colourful segment in the film – unmistakably mirrors the colored vortex sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But the application, completely at the service of the story and actively designed to go unnoticed, is what makes the experience memorable.

The plain black void in which the alien’s victims, lit in blue hues, float endlessly until their moment of implosion is the year’s most terrifying, unshakable imagery. The sense of inescapable horror that these sequences create is precisely due to their sleek emptiness. Similarly, the emotional gravity of the final moment, a literal stripping to bare the soul, or lack thereof, is conveyed with such weight because of the simplicity of the non-obstructive effects. Still, one need not look further than the film’s opening "creation" scene to see the genius of the effects. Glazer and his team trimmed down the concept of this scene from the formation of a full human body to just the eye and ended up with sheer minimalist brilliance. The gradual, shocking revelation of what it is we’re witnessing is the most wondrous sensation in the film, a moment of genuinely awe-inspiring quality. Here’s hoping Academy voters take note.



Previously on Team FYC
The Homesman for Cinematography

Thursday
Nov132014

AFI Fest: Weta Digital Celebrates 20 Years with New Technology

Anne Marie here at the AFI Fest with another special event. Weta Digital, the pioneering VFX company behind some of the biggest blockbusters, including the Marvel franchise, Avatar, and The Hobbit, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. In  “State of the Art: The Evolution of Weta Digital," Visual Effects Supervisor Dan Lemmon gave audiences a peek behind the digital curtain of Weta Digital’s latest film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, to show how the company develops performance capture to assist and augment cinematography.

 Weta Digital is probably best known for its motion capture process (dubbed “performance capture” by James Cameron "because they also capture emotions"). Dan Lemmon explained that this evolved from Andy Serkis filming scenes as Gollum twice for The Lord of the Rings, into a sophisticated system called a “Capture Volume,” a cube of space surrounded by infrared cameras that record the actors’ movements. For Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, director Matt Reeves wanted to shoot the apes on location, so a new “portable” version was developed. The result had a profound effect not only on the technology of performance capture, but also on the look of the film--both digital and real.

Serkis in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Since Avatar won the Oscar for Best Cinematography in 2009, each subsequent winner has been a VFX-heavy film, so the unspoken question was how Weta Digital interacted with Michael Seresin, the cinematographer of Dawn. Shooting on location allowed Seresin to light the ape actors as he would real characters. Then, Weta Digital could match that lighting on the pixelized primates. In addition, Seresin and Reeves developed a look book, pulling images from The Godfather and grittier 70s films. Dan Lemmon explained that Weta’s job was to mimic Seresin’s intentions, for instance digitally creating the vertigo-inducing helicopter shot for the climax. However, Lemmon also proudly pointed out how Weta Digital improved on Seresin’s vision, whether it was by manipulating the light to capture a digital ape’s eyes, or by adding fake “flaws” to the helicopter shot in order to make the synthetic image more real. 

The result of Weta Digital’s collaboration with Seresin is undoubtedly remarkable, and pushes VFX to be accepted as an art, rather than a gimmick. Still, Weta's additions to Seresin's work mark a definite change in the visual landscape of moviemaking. As VFX are integrated from pre-production to filming to post-production and digital effects get clearer, the line between cinematography and visual effects is going to get increasingly muddy.

Saturday
Sep202014

Tim's Toons: The CGI spectacle and unrealism of Sky Captain

Tim here. This week marks the ten-year anniversary of one of the most important milestones in modern feature animation, though it’s a form of animation that tends to make itself invisible. But when most of the sets, and several of the major characters in movies from Avatar to Gravity to Guardians of the Galaxy are created entirely in a computer by digital artists, can we really keep blithely calling these “live-action movies” without briefly wondering if our pants have just burst in flame? It’s not Disney/Pixar-style cartooning, but these are partially or wholly animated worlds by any definition I can come up with. And it was on September 17, 2004 that Paramount released Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which made history as the first Hollywood movie made entirely on green screens, with every single location created artificially in post-production...

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Sep022014

Best Shot Season Finale: The Matrix (1999)

I'm not proud to say so but I'd probably take the blue pill. 

BEST SHOT

It's not that I reject reality so much as that I keep misplacing it. It's easy to forget about it you're drawn to the fantasy. My spirit animal is Cecilia in The Purple Rose of Cairo, what can I say?

So here we are completing another season of Hit Me With Your Best Shot and again I've scheduled the final episode for the very moment I'm about to leave the country giving me no time whatsoever to produce anything like a suitable Season Finale with enough pomp and circumstance. [Note to self: Season Six must end before the suitcase has come down from the shelf for the Toronto International Film Festival.] So I'll make it up to you with a little look back at Season 5 in a couple of days.

But that image above, more than any other... apart from the cascading green symbols as visual motif (remember when that screensaver was all the rage?), is what I think of when I think of The Matrix. It needs us to embrace utter fabrication and complicated fantasy for the film to work and yet, as its narrative throughline it demands that Neo completely reject the same for cold hard wet and slimy truth. Is this what the dystopian genre is inherently for, to present dark truths about humanity and our future in the comforting garb of the unreal while screaming "REALITY!" as it pretzels itself back into fantasy like the greatest of contortionists?

I think so. 

Here's what the 12 other Best Shot Participants chose as their defining image. 

THE MATRIX (1999) BEST SHOTS
click on the image for the corresponding article 

The Film's The ThingAntagony & EcstasyFilm ActuallyEntertainment JunkieSorta That GuyLam Chop ChopPop Culture CrazyVideo ValhallaCinematic CornerDancin' Dan on Film
Allison TooeyBest Shot in the DarkTeo Bugbee

What image defines The Matrix for you? Do you see it here?