Visual Effects: All for One, or One for All?

Nominees say it’s best to give all vfx to one company — except when it’s not

The five Oscar nominees for 2013 display a consistent level of polish that vfx pros could only dream about just a few years ago.

Yet they represent radically different ideas about how to get a big vfx picture done. Some are throwbacks to the era when a single star vfx company would handle the load, while others follow the current trend and are ensemble efforts, combining shots from many companies.

“There’s a tremendous advantage in dealing with the smallest number of companies you can,” says “Star Trek Into Darkness” vfx supervisor Roger Guyett, though he concedes economics also play a part. He says that it’s crucial to communicate a clear vision to the hundreds of artists on a big show to avoid wasted effort, since they’re going to be working away anyway and “eventually you’ll either run out of time or you’ll run out of money.”

Industrial Light & Magic, Pixomondo and Atomic Fiction shared the “Into Darkness” work. ILM had excelled with the starship Enterprise on the previous “Trek,” says Guyett, so it kept that assignment, while Pixomondo did the Klingon and conference room fight sequences.

“It’s really just picking sequences out that have the least amount of crossover,” says Guyett.

Warner Bros. has long preferred a “wide pipeline” for vfx. Yet this year’s two Warner nominees, “Gravity” and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” went the other direction.

From planning and previsualization through final delivery, “Gravity’s” vfx were done almost entirely by Framestore, says vfx supervisor Tim Webber. He notes that Alfonso Cuaron’s trademark long shots made it difficult to split up the effects work, and consistency was especially important because so many frames were all digital, or nearly so. “Otherwise it would be almost like having different d.p.s for different parts of your film,” he says.

Joe Letteri of Weta Digital, vfx supervisor on the “Hobbit” trilogy, says this series has stayed exclusively at Weta basically because that’s how the pic’s helmer Peter Jackson likes it. “If you have a team that’s together and consistent, by the time you get to the end of the movie, everyone’s got a rhythm and you can make big creative changes quickly.” But he adds that “Hobbit” also features digitally animated characters, which — like Cuaron’s long shots — are difficult to split up.

At the other extreme is “Iron Man 3.” The earlier installments of the franchise were led by ILM, but Digital Domain got the lead position for this installment off its work on “Real Steel.” But then DD got into financial trouble, and some of its work ended up at Weta, which had done Iron Man in “The Avengers.”

The latest “Iron Man” used 17 different companies, in part to meet a short schedule. Vfx supervisor Christopher Townsend embraced the “slightly more organic feel” that might produce.

“There’s something to be said for different sequences looking a little different when they’re shot and composed in a different way,” he says.

Disney wanted “The Lone Ranger” done by multiple vfx studios. ILM took the lead, with Moving Picture. Co and Lola VFX awarded shots or sequences that suited their expertise.

For face replacement, it was Lola VFX, which specializes in cosmetic f/x and did such work on “The Social Network’s” twins and the “Skinny Steve” scenes in “Captain America.” Moving Picture Co. had done herds of horses before, and was tasked with the Comanche attack, shot with an Arri Alexa at night, and scorpions. ILM took the train sequences, shot on film in daylight, and digital doubles.

“I felt like we were pretty cohesive as a group,” says Tim Alexander, vfx supervisor for the “Lone Ranger,” crediting meetings in L.A. where helmer Gore Verbinski would bring the various companies together to review footage.

All of the nominees agree about one thing, though: The viewer shouldn’t be able to tell if the vfx had one source or many, and they shouldn’t have to think about it. “In my perfect world,” says Townsend, “people look at it and think the suits are created by Tony Stark.”

More Film

  • Gabrielle Carteris

    LGBTQ Groups Backing SAG-AFTRA in Member Privacy Fight Against IMDb

    SAG-AFTRA has announced that a coalition of national LGBTQ groups is backing the union in its fight for member privacy against IMDb. The groups include the National LGBTQ Task Force, the country’s oldest national LGBTQ advocacy group; GLAAD; the Transgender Law Center; the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund; Transcend Legal, Inc.; and Equality Federation. [...]

  • Myst Computer Game

    'Myst' Film and TV Rights Sell to Village Roadshow

    “Myst,” the influential video game that helped usher in the CD-ROM era, may inspire an ambitious multi-platform film and television universe. Village Roadshow Entertainment Group, the co-producer and co-financier of the “Matrix” and “Sherlock Holmes” franchises, has acquired the rights to the first-person graphic adventure. For those born post-90s, “Myst” was wildly popular and hailed [...]

  • ‘Half-Sister’ Director Damjan Kozole on Compassion,

    ‘Half-Sister’ Director Damjan Kozole on Compassion, Learning From the Past

    Two estranged half-siblings from a small coastal town in Slovenia spend the better part of their young lives ignoring each other’s existence. But when circumstances force them to move into the same cramped apartment, they have no choice but to come to terms with the past that binds them, while trying to decide how to [...]

  • The Traitor

    MMC Studios, One of Germany's Biggest Production Facilities, Changes Hands

    Germany’s MMC Studios, which has hosted such recent international productions as Joseph Gordon-Levitt thriller “7500” and Marco Bellocchio’s Cannes competition film “The Traitor,” is changing hands. Frankfurt-based investment company Novum Capital has acquired the facility in Cologne, one of Germany’s biggest film and TV studios, from Luxembourg private equity fund Lenbach Equity Opportunities I. The [...]

  • Box Office: 'Annabelle Comes Home' Earns

    Box Office: 'Annabelle Comes Home' Kicks Off Tuesday With Solid $3.5 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “Annabelle Comes Home” collected a strong $3.5 million in Tuesday night previews. The supernatural thriller is expected to earn $30 million over its first five days in theaters. “Annabelle Comes Home” is the third “Annabelle” movie and seventh entry in the Conjuring franchise. Preview ticket sales are in line with [...]

  • Naomi Watts Thriller 'The Wolf Hour'

    Naomi Watts Thriller 'The Wolf Hour' Picked Up for U.S. by Brainstorm Media

    “The Wolf Hour,” a psychological thriller starring Naomi Watts and Jennifer Ehle, has been picked up for North America by Brainstorm Media. HanWay Films has also closed sales for a host of European and Asian territories. Directed by Alistair Banks Griffin, “The Wolf Hour” features Oscar-nominated Watts as June, a former countercultural celebrity who lives [...]

  • A Star Is Born

    'A Star Is Born' Soundtrack Surpasses Global Sales of 6 Million

    Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s onscreen chemistry continues to be felt on the official soundtrack to “A Star is Born,” which just surpassed 6 million albums sold globally and has been certified double platinum in the U.S. Released by Interscope Records in 2018, the album debuted atop the charts and remains the highest-selling album of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content