Cameron film is the 800-pound gorilla in visual effects race

The 800-pound gorilla of the visual effects race is “Avatar,” which combines motion-capture animation, virtual environments, robot and machine effects, and creatures — and does all of it in stereo-scopic 3D. Weta Digital leads the way on a project so vast that writer-helmer James Cameron is likely to have his hands full just sustaining high quality across its many shots and vendors. (Even Cameron’s landmark “Titanic” has its bad vfx shots.) In any other year, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” would seem huge, with a plethora of robots and its CG vfx rendered for the 70mm Imax format. “Transformers” lead shop Industrial Light & Magic has several contenders this year, including “Star Trek” and another killer-robot pic, “Terminator Salvation.” Roland Emmerich’s end-of-the-world opus “2012” offers eye-popping destruction. Gritty alien-slum pic “District 9″ is a well-liked underdog. “Watchmen” has stylish work from Sony Imageworks and others.

2012
Columbia
Highlights: Giant L.A. earthquake; huge wave and water simulations
Vfx runtime/shots: 77 min./1,315 shots (total runtime: 154 min.)
Vfx shops: Uncharted Territory, Double Negative, Digital Domain, Scanline

AVATAR*
Fox
Highlights: Planet Pandora, alien Na’vi, digital characters and 3D everything
Vfx runtime: N/A
Vfx shops: Weta Digital, Industrial Light & Magic, Framestore, Prime Focus

DISTRICT 9
TriStar
Highlights: The “prawn” aliens and technology and their integration into South African environment
Vfx runtime/shots: 44 min./537 shots (total runtime: 112 min.)
Vfx shops: Image Engine, the Embassy, Weta Digital, Weta Workshop

G.I. Joe: THE RISE OF COBRA
Paramount
Highlights: Accelerator suits, convoy chase, Paris car chase and destruction of Eiffel Tower
Vfx runtime/shots: 90 min./1,763 shots (total runtime: 112 min.)
Vfx shops: Digital Domain, CIS Group, Moving Picture Co., Dan Sudick (practical f/x)

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE
Warner Bros.
Highlights: The inky memory flashbacks, the climax’s tornado of fire and an all-digital Dementor attack on London
Vfx runtime/shots: 144 min/1,233 shots
Vfx shops: ILM, Double Negative, Moving Picture Co., Rising Sun Pictures

THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS
Sony Classics
Highlights: Widely varied styles, miniatures and pyro for Jude Law’s sequence
Vfx runtime/shots: N/A
Vfx shops: Peerless Camera Co.

STAR TREK
Paramount
Highlights: Diversity among planets, aliens, space ships, environments
Vfx runtime/shots: 60+ min./1,100 shots (total runtime: 127 min.)
Vfx shops: ILM, Digital Domain, Svengali Visual Effects, Lola VFX

TERMINATOR SALVATION
Warner Bros.
Highlights: Killer robots, the proto-Terminator, the digital T-800 and digital Arnold Schwarzenegger
Vfx runtime/shots: 67 min/1,271 shots (total runtime: 106 min.)
Vfx shops: ILM, Asylum, Rising Sun, Stan Winston Studio, Kerner Studios

TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN
Paramount
Highlights: More and bigger robots, in more worldwide locations, on huge Imax screens
Vfx runtime/shots: 80 min./1,600 shots (total runtime: 149 min.)
Vfx shops: ILM, Digital Domain, Asylum

WATCHMEN
Warner Bros.
Highlights: The destruction of New York, Rorschach’s mask, the Owlship and all-digital Dr. Manhattan
Vfx runtime/shots: 97 minutes/925 shots (total runtime: 161 min.)
Vfx shops: Sony Pictures Imageworks, Intelligent Creatures, Moving Picture Co., CIS

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
Warner Bros.
Highlights: The CG-animated facial expressions on the creatures
Vfx runtime/shots: about 60 min/1,155 shots (total runtime: 97 min.)
Vfx Shops: Framestore; Iloura; Rising Sun; D Train FX

IN THE MIX
• “A Christmas Carol”
• “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”
• “Coraline”
• “The Hurt Locker”
• “Land of the Lost”
• “Monsters vs. Aliens”
• “The Lovely Bones”*
• “Sherlock Holmes”*
• “Twilight: New Moon”
• “Up”
• “X-Men Origins:Wolverine”

*not screened

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