Visual Effects: The Shortlist

Academy opts for upstarts

Evan Almighty
Rhythm & Hues, Industrial Light & Magic
Doug Smith, Bill George, vfx supervisors; Daniel Sudick, special effects coordinator, Lindy DeQuattro, associate vfx supervisor

“Evan Almighty” has been the Count Dracula of the visual effects race: You can put a stake through its heart, but it just won’t die.

It looked like a sure-fire contender, with extensive digital compositing work to put in live animals, thousands of digital animals from Rhythm & Hues and state-of-the-art water simulations.

But it earned “only” $173 million worldwide — OK grosses for a laffer, except for the film’s estimated $175 million budget.

So Oscar support for the film dried up. ILM preferred to talk about “Transformers.” R&H preferred to talk about “The Golden Compass.” Universal preferred to talk about, well, almost anything else.

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“It’s been very disheartening,” says vfx supervisor Doug Smith. “It looked like it was going to be forgotten.”

But the Academy surprised “Evan’s” makers by putting it on its longlist in December. Even so, almost everyone was caught off guard when it made the bake-off.

“We’re the underdog,” says ILM vfx supervisor Bill George. “But it was an amazing project to work on.”

Wow Factor:Vast numbers of digital photo-real hero animals, more live ones shot greenscreen, and that water. Plus, as ILM’s George notes, “It was a comedy and had a different texture and feel than some of the other films.”

The Bourne Ultimatum
Warner Bros.
Double Negative
Peter Chiang, vfx supervisor; Charlie Noble, digital vfx supervisor; David Vickery and Mattias Lindahl, CG supervisors

Wow factor: It all looks like in-camera locations, sets, stunts and explosions, but in fact there’s plenty of CG at work here — rig removal, set extensions and digital cars in the chases.

The Golden Compass
New Line
Rhythm & Hues, Framestore CFC, Cinesite, Digital Domain
Michael Fink, vfx supervisor

Wow factor: Iorek the armored Ice Bear, the all-digital animal “daemons,” the intricate transformations of the heroine’s daemon Pan, and the climactic battle in the Arctic.

I Am Legend
Warner Bros.
Sony Pictures Imageworks
Janek Sirrs, James P. Berney, David Schaub, David A. Smith, vfx supervisors

Wow factor: A detailed depictions of depopulated Manhattan, complete with lions hunting in Times Square, and the all-digital zombielike “infected.”

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
ILM, Digital Domain, Asylum
John Knoll, Charles Gibson, vfx supervisors; Hal Hickel, animation supervisor; John Frazier, special f/x supervisor

Wow factor: All manner of digital weirdness: Davy Jones and his crew, the edge-of-the-world cataract, the white desert crabs in the great beyond and the climactic maelstrom.

Industrial Light & Magic
Scott Farrar, vfx supervisor; John Frazier, special f/x supervisor, Scott Benza, animation supervisor; Russell Earl, associate vfx supervisor.

Wow factor: Ninja-quick robots as a major departure from lumbering mechanical men of the past; “dirty” shooting style and textures to add realism.

Warner Bros.
Animal Logic, Hydraulx
Chris Watts, Grant Freckelton, Derek Wentworth, Daniel Leduc, vfx supervisors

Wow factor: Almost all of the production design is rendered digitally, not to mention the Persian fleet drowning at sea, the Persian army falling off a cliff and some fearsome war elephants.