You’d think that the thousands of f/x shots that appear in this summer’s tentpoles would have blown away the industry’s special-effects wizards. Not necessarily. Variety’s Marc Graser asked a panel of f/x pros what they thought of the output: Consensus was Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” stood out, while “The Matrix Reloaded” disappointed.
An f/x supervisor from Industrial Light & Magic
An f/x supervisor at Digital Domain

An f/x supervisor at Sony Pictures Imageworks

An executive at Digiscope

“There were individual moments that were just stunning” — the gasoline truck exploding in super slow motion and mapping the actions of actors’ faces onto CG characters. “You can tell they didn’t have enough time. Agent Smith jumping on the hood of a car during the freeway chase is one example.” “The most impressive visual f/x sequences, namely the burly brawl and the car chase, both appear well planned and look well executed. The artists have, yet again, added a rung to the ladder in visual f/x with very polished and visually enthralling work.” Things that worked: “most of the stuff in the freeway chase sequence, panoramic views of Zion, the sentinel and ship shots in the tunnels of the real world.” Things that didn’t: “The Neo flying stuff and burly brawl. The f/x of the burly brawl looked gameish: The digital cloth looked like rubber, digital character faces looked like bad texture paintings.” “It’s hard to top the first film, but ‘Reloaded’ had some good moments. The highway scene was spectacular. Clearly, a lot of hard work and preparation was put into the sequence, and it shows.”

“The work was really good. I appreciated the attention to detail. Some of the close-ups were the best things (that have) ever been done. It’s unfortunate that the best facial animation in skin synthesis was done on a big green comicbook character. If the same face work had been done on a normal human, people would have never known it was CG.” “A very daring attempt to create a central CG character in a live-action environment around which the emotional life of the movie revolves. The visual f/x had to give the character an emotional strength that we could buy. It paves the way for more projects that were never before possible.” “Some of the work was brilliant (the dog fight sequence and the desert tank battle), and some of it was not so brilliant — the big ‘look ma, the CG model can act’ scenes and the visually ho-hum molecular battle at the film’s climax. The comicbook multiple-panel method of storytelling … took me out of the action.” “The trailers didn’t do the Hulk character justice. The close-ups of the Hulk were great and showed a lot of complex detail. Funny enough, the wide shots of the Hulk weren’t as good as the close-ups.”

“The work was really clean and featured clever effects work.” Arnold Schwarzenegger’s half-human, half- CG face and the bathroom fight between Arnold and the Terminatrix (shot on a bluescreen stage and not an actual bathroom set) stood out. “Technically, nothing hadn’t been done before, but there wasn’t anything that looked suspicious.” “Most memorable was the truck chase, truly a cartoon come to life because it was unbelievable just how far they went with it. Also impressive and often overlooked in many sci-fi flicks were the ultra-realistic compositing and visual f/x work on the alien ships and artillery.” “The work on this film was really solid,” referring to the nuclear blasts, the look of the melting liquid metal of the Terminatrix and the halfman/ half-machine f/x shots of Schwarzenegger. Scenes involving the old Terminator models looked clunky. The fight between Arnold and the Terminatrix really didn’t work.” “The rescue chase is thesequence of the film. Massive destruction and seamless visual f/x work helped create a memorable scene. The digital Terminatrix in the bathroom scene was also quite good.”
“The movie featured a smart use of high-quality effects, specifically the transition from pirates to the skeletal ghosts. The work was done so well … you could tell it was difficult to do. Yet by the end, I’d seen more than I needed to. The first three times you see an effect, it’s the most impressive. When you see it 50 more times, it lessens the impact.” “This is the summer movie I wish I’d worked on: the perfect blend of a very entertaining story and well-realized f/x. The f/x are as important as any cast member. The most impressive work was also the most essential — the transformation of the pirates who appear as skeletons at night — a brilliant combination of physical and digital elements. ” “The work was very cool overall, with the best gag of the film being the skeletons effect. Special kudos to the cloth and hair work and the character animation work. The ships in a few shots looked a little too CG, while other shots screamed out matte painting!” “Technically sound and visually pristine, especially the digital creation of cloth and skeleton animation were top-notch. The transition of the human actors to the CG skeletons was absolutely seamless. Overall, probably the best work to date this year.”

“The effects work, especially the car chase on the bridge, was top-notch but totally unnoticeable. It was seamless. I shook my head when I saw that they blew up a real multimillion-dollar residence. People don’t realize how difficult it is to rig buildings that aren’t designed to break away.” (not seen) “I was totally won over by the cool gee-whiz visual f/x sequences. The seamless integration of digital cars, trucks and assorted mayhem on the causeway chase sequence was a beauty to behold. The scene in the opening KKK sequence where Martin Lawrence is shot in the ass is my favorite f/x shot of the summer.” (not seen)