On Jan. 3 at the Acad’s Goldwyn Theater in BevHills each pic will screen a 10-minute reel of vfx highlights, without “progressions” or “befores-and-afters.” The assembled vfx branch members vote on the spot, and the nominees are announced the following week.The conventional wisdom was that the visual effects category came of age last year, as “Hugo’s” beauty and artistry (and directorial cachet) won out over technological innovation and spectacle. This year’s “Hugo” may turn out to be “Life of Pi”: a drama from a prestigious director that couldn’t have been made without advanced CG visual effects. The Acad has called its vfx bakeoff the greatest visual effects show on Earth, and this year the 10 pics that will vie for five Oscar noms provide plenty of variety for the program. The rest of the lineup is mostly taken up with fantasy (“The Hobbit,” “Snow White and the Huntsman”), sci-fi (“Cloud Atlas,” “John Carter,” “Prometheus”) and superheroes (“The Amazing Spider-Man,” “The Avengers,” “The Dark Knight Rises”), long staples of the category: The exception is “Skyfall.” Like all Bond pics, it excels in practical f/x, and should prove a welcome palette cleanser during the digital feast.
‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ (Sony)
Vfx supervisor: Jerome Chen
Highlights: New animation techniques match the digital Spidey with Andrew Garfield’s movements. Digital New York; Spidey’s crystalline-looking webs, and extended sequences with the Lizard.
‘The Avengers’ (Disney/Marvel)
Vfx supervisor: Janek Sirrs
Highlights: The Hulk, integrating Mark Ruffalo’s performance and appearance; digital New York, especially the flying shots, which had to be built from photographs.
‘Cloud Atlas’ (Warner)
Vfx supervisor: Dan Glass
Highlights: Variety of vfx in the multiple narratives. Digital makeup for actors recurring in the stories, including full eyelid replacement for Jim Sturgess as Chang.
‘The Dark Knight Rises’ (Warner)
Vfx supervisor: Paul Franklin
Highlights: Most vfx rendered in native Imax, which demands much more detail than conventional formats. Most scenes in daylight. The aerial chase with “The Bat”; Gotham police blow the bridges, which combined live-action plates of New York with digital vfx.
‘John Carter’ (Disney)
Vfx supervisor: Sue Rowe
Highlights: The performance-capture Tharks; the cities of Mars; digitally altered landscapes for Mars; the hero’s newfound superpowers when he arrives on Mars.
‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ (Warner/New Line)
Senior vfx supervisor: Joe Letteri
Highlights: Digital characters; Gollum, now better than ever. Goblins and the Goblin Cavern. Dwarves and Hobbits now shot with advanced greenscreen and motion control instead of forced perspective.
‘Life of Pi’ (Fox)
Vfx supervisor: Bill Westenhofer
Highlights: CG zoo animals, of course, but don’t overlook digital ocean extensions with vistas, “category 12″ storm sequences, the flying fish, and a bioluminescent breaching whale.
Vfx supervisor: Richard Stammers
Highlights: Tight integration of practical and digital creatures. Ambitious vfx on short schedule. Native 3D.
Special f/x supervisor: Chris Corbould
Highlights: The underground train crash; Bond and the construction digger on top of a moving train and the destruction of Bond’s Scottish manse.
‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ (Universal)
Vfx supervisors: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Philip Brennan
Highlights: The “modern” and “very designed” overall style balancing fantasy and gritty realism; the Dark Forest; the Enchanted Forest/Great White Stag scene; the Troll; the Magic Mirror.
Editors take auds into heroes’ minds | Vfx thrive on technical difficulties | CG animals make tasty filling for ‘Pi’ | Sound editors trek in search of authenticity | Sound mixers sell the realism of unreal worlds | Radio mics were secret of ‘Les Mis’ recording | Imax proved big challenge for ‘Dark Knight’ | ‘Les Mis’ editors took cues from music | Helmer wanted woman’s touch for ‘Sessions’ | Research, experience guided ‘Flight’ editor | Creatures shine in vfx bakeoff