×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Training your f/x eye

Eye on the Oscars: Vfx, Sound & Editing

S ome inside the Acad’s vfx branch once worried that if there were five visual effects nominees, the general membership would vote the Oscar to “the wrong movie.”

That argument will be tested this year, as there are five vfx nominees for the first time. So for those who are a lot more comfortable sizing up a star turn or a screenplay, Variety asked supervisors from each of the five nominated pics how they judge the quality of vfx.

REALISM

Paradoxically, the less real an object is, the easier it is to make it “realistic.” No one’s ever seen a flying dragon; but everyone’s seen trees and hills and buildings, and can tell when they look wrong. Yet when they look right, it’s hard to tell they’re vfx at all.

“It’s almost the curse of good visual effects,” says Tim Burke, vfx supervisor on “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.” “If we’ve done our job very, very well, the audience won’t be able to appreciate what we’ve done. That makes it difficult to judge.”

In the climactic battle of “Deathly Hallows,” for example, it’s tempting to focus on the magic elements and miss the fact the sets and locations are mostly virtual.

“It’s so photographically real, people are just going to think we just went to a location and there was a real castle,” Burke says. “Of course none of those things existed. The whole thing was shot on the backlot of Leavesden studios.”

SEAMLESSNESS

“Real Steel” vfx supervisor Erik Nash says: “One thing I look for when I watch a big visual-effects movie is how consistent is the work from beginning to end. You can build up a lot of great work, scene after scene, shot after shot, but when a visual effect falls flat, or doesn’t ring true to the tone and the overall look, it takes me out of the movie.” A vfx picture, then, is arguably only as good as its weakest shot.

In “Real Steel,” for example, Nash’s team worked hard to blend shots with animatronic and CG robots. “We should shoot reference and then render and composite our CG version right next to it, in all different environments,” Nash says. “Until we couldn’t tell the difference, we knew our job wasn’t done.”

DIFFICULTY

Most voters would probably agree great work on a hard task ought to count for more than equally great work on an easier task. But how to judge difficulty?

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” animation supervisor Scott Benza observes one thing to look for is destruction. “Although Michael (Bay) was given unprecedented access in Chicago,” says Benza, “he didn’t have permission to do any physical damage to the city. And the quantity of the damage being done is directly related to how hard that is to achieve.” So the wreckage is f/x, be they practical or digital.

In the sequence where a glass skyscraper is broken in half, note that the glass is all reflective, so all those reflections have to be rendered too. That makes the job very, very difficult.

PERFORMANCE

“Transformers” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” both rely on CG-animated characters as major actors that must carry entire scenes. “The goal as with any actor is to have them be something the audience wants to engage with and wants to watch,” says “Apes” vfx supervisor Joe Letteri.

Letteri and Benza both tend to point to quiet, subtle moments that deliver a lot of emotional impact through performance.

Caesar, the CG simian played by Andy Serkis with the help of performance-capture technology, goes through a “growing-up story,” notes Letteri. “He’s forced to be away from his family and find his own path. Everyone in the audience can relate to some aspect of that.”

ARTISTRY

Non-pros think of vfx as a technical craft, but nowadays it’s rare for one company or another to have much of a technical edge. “If you can make water or fire, that’s no longer the achievement,” says “Hugo’s” vfx supervisor Rob Legato. “It’s how well does it work, how does it help you advance the story.”

He adds, “You’re judging the artistic merits of the films in every other category. And now I would love for people to judge visual effects the same way.”

He is proud of the fact that the compositions and shot designs in “Hugo” aren’t compromised for visual effects. “If we had all the money and the world and we were David Lean, we would probably shoot it the same way.”

Eye on the Oscars: Vfx, Sound & Editing
Training your f/x eye | Sound nominees aim to take auds deeper | Cuts help exotic settings play their role in the story

More Film

  • Alibaba Expands Film Investment, Loans $100

    Alibaba Expands Film Investment Plan, Loans $100 Million to Huayi Bros.

    Alibaba Pictures Group, the film business arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, has struck a strategic co-operation deal with leading film studio Huayi Brothers. The deal terms include a $103 million (RMB700 million) loan to Huayi. Alibaba Pictures said the agreement was part of its recently announced strategy to be a part of major movies [...]

  • Netflix Buys Taiwan Black Comedy 'Dear

    Netflix Buys Taiwan Black Comedy 'Dear Ex'

    Netflix has added to its roster of Mandarin-language content with the acquisition of rights to Taiwanese dark comedy “Dear Ex.” The award-winning film will play out from Feb. 1. The story involves a recently bereaved widow and a gay man fighting over a dead man’s inheritance, with the woman’s teenage son caught in the middle. [...]

  • Audrey Wells

    Film News Roundup: Audrey Wells Scholarships Launched by UCLA, China's Pearl Studio

    In today’s film news roundup, Pearl Studio and UCLA start a “Say Yes!” scholarship in memory of Audrey Well; Gina Lollobrigida and Claudia Cardinale are honored; and the “General Magic” documentary gets bought. SCHOLARSHIPS UNVEILED China’s Pearl Studio has made a gift of $100,000 for endowed scholarships to the UCLA School of Theater, Film and [...]

  • Honey Boy Knock Down the House

    Sundance Hot Titles List: 13 Buzzy Films That Have Buyers Talking

    There’s a good reason that much of Hollywood braves the thin mountain air each year to make the trek to the Sundance Film Festival, and it’s not to check out the nearby ski slopes. The annual launch of the indie film gathering brings with it the possibility of discovering the next big thing in moviemaking. [...]

  • (L to R) VIGGO MORTENSEN and

    Will Oscar Nominations Give This Year's Contenders a Box Office Boost?

    With nominees like “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “A Star Is Born,” the 2018 class of movies proved the Oscars don’t need a popular films category to recognize movies that also made bank in theaters. But now that the academy has selected this year’s crop of awards hopefuls, is there any green left to squeeze [...]

  • A24 Buys Sequel to Tilda Swinton's

    Sundance: A24 Buys Sequel to Tilda Swinton's Romance-Drama 'The Souvenir'

    A24 has bought the North American rights to Tilda Swinton’s romance-drama “The Souvenir – Part 2,” closing the deal on the eve of the Sundance Film Festival. “The Souvenir” is set to make its world premiere at Sundance on Jan. 27, followed by playing in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival in February. [...]

  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

    Chiwetel Ejiofor Adds Authenticity to Directorial Debut by Shooting in Malawi

    When actor Chiwetel Ejiofor optioned the rights for the 2009 best-seller “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” penning the screenplay for a feature directorial debut that world-premieres in Sundance and then appears in the Berlin Film Festival before being released globally by Netflix this spring, colleagues floated the idea of shooting the Malawi-set film in tried-and-tested [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content