Editor’s note: This is part of a 32-part series dissecting the 85th Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every day leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category of the Oscars. To read the other posts regarding this event, please click here. Thank you, and enjoy!
By Sonal of Life In Technicolor
The previous shortlist of ten films also included Skyfall, Cloud Atlas, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man and John Carter. The films then had a ‘bake-off’ on January 3rd in which 10 minute clips of each film were presented after which one could decide on the final nomination. This year’s nominees for Best Visual Effects are The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Life of Pi, Marvel’s The Avengers, Prometheus and Snow White and the Huntsman.
The special effects category (now known as visual effects) was first established as a separate category back in 1963. Prior to that from 1939 -1962, it was given along with sound editing. The last two years, we have had five nominees but looking back at the previous nominees, history shows that it was mostly two to three films competing against each other. Although in 1990, I’m guessing Total Recall had no competition as it won a Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects.
Let’s take a look at each of the five nominees that were chosen in the final runoff towards to the Academy Awards and see how work went into making the visual effects seamless and part of the film’s reality.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – I’d say The Hobbit is going into this with excellent odds. All three previous Lord of the Rings films won the Best Visual Effects Oscar for Weta, the visual effects company based in New Zealand. This time around, visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri had to best the company’s prior efforts from LotR in re-creating popular CGI character Gollum for the prequel and capture Andy Serkis’ motion capture performance in realtime. They also had to produce a great number of digital trolls, stone-giants and goblins and oh, and this was all done in HFR 3D. They had to live up to the reputation to their earlier work and also take the technology further.
Life of Pi – For Ang Lee’s unfilmable story of a young boy, a Bengal tiger, zebra, hyena and orangutan stranded at sea, the vfx studio Rhythm & Hues was the perfect choice. They are the masters in creating believable and realistic animals as in the Narnia series and The Golden Compass for which they have previously won the visual effects Oscar in 2007. Richard Parker, the aforementioned tiger, is an astonishing character and incredibly realistic down to the last hair. That amazing sequence appropriately dubbed ‘The Storm of God’ which was originally shot in a water tank in Taiwan was brought to life by vfx company The Moving Picture Company (MPC). The ocean was just as much a character, said Bill Westenhofer of R & H, as Richard Paker or Pi. Plus this was one 3D theater experience that didn’t bring on a headache. Out of the film’s 930 shots, 690 are all visual effects shots.
Marvel’s The Avengers – The #1 movie at the box office last year with grosses of over a billion worldwide, The Avengers combined four franchises together and kickstarted off the summer movie season. Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) and Weta were the lead vfx companies and ILM did a superb job of bringing the Hulk to life where the previous two instalments failed. They took extensive scans of actor Mark Ruffalo who played the Hulk through motion capture. Even the smallest detail from the green color of the Hulk’s skin was debated upon. The actions sequences with Thor and Tony Stark going up against each other in the forest had a completely digital environment. Also revealed at the bake-off by visual effects supervisor Janek Sirrs, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) never fired any real arrows!
Prometheus – Out of the five nominees, I haven’t seen this one yet but I plan to soon before the actual ceremony. This film marked Ridley Scott’s return to sci-fi and his Alien universe. Real locations from Jordan and Iceland here on Earth were transformed into the alien world. Over 1400 shots of vfx were created by companies like MPC and Weta who especially worked on the iconic Space Jockey chair. Director Ridley Scott even gave them sketches and design of what it should look which is evident in the MPC vfx reel.
Snow White and the Huntsman – What this film lacked in story, it made up for visually. And there was a plenty of it with a dark knight army which burst into pieces, Queen Ravenna’s (Charlize Theron) transformation into creepy black birds, the forest with trolls, fairies and mystical animals like the stag encounter with Snow White (which felt very Miyazaki-ish) to the use of full sized actors as the dwarfs. Many different vfx companies from Double Negative to Rhythm & Hues worked to bring the film’s fantastical elements to life.
Four of the five Oscar nominees are also recognized by the Visual Effects Society as well. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has seven nominations, while Life of Pi and Marvel’s The Avengers both have six apiece and Prometheus has three nominations. My first reaction when I saw the nominees was this is going to be about the CGI characters in the films especially in The Hobbit, Life of Pi and The Avengers that left an impact way after you watched the film. Like I mentioned before, The Hobbit has the edge but I truly have a feeling that this year’s Oscar will go to Life of Pi as it was such a visual film.