Visual Effects Society Awards: When Magic Hides In Plain Sight

Org pioneered concept of 'supporting effects'

The Lone Ranger

The Visual Effects Society has pioneered the idea of recognizing “supporting effects,” but the idea of what’s “supporting” has evolved.

Rob Legato, vfx supervisor for supporting f/x nominee “The Wolf of Wall Street,” says they “support the story rather than call attention to themselves.”

Compared with “effects-driven” nominees like “Gravity,” that’s certainly true.

“Wolf” had just $4 million for vfx (fellow nominee “The Lone Ranger” may have had 20 times that) but that paid for about 400 vfx shots. Vfx allowed New York to substitute for Italy, London and Switzerland. One major sequence, though, ate up half the vfx budget: the storm and sinking of Jordan Belfort’s yacht off the coast of Italy.

“You couldn’t picture the movie without it,” agrees Legato, who compares it with the plane crash in “The Aviator.”

“From that moment on, the movie is different, his life has changed,” he says. Once Belfort’s yacht sinks, Legato says, “essentially his luck has run out. He’s now in the punishment phase of his life.”

On “The Lone Ranger,” vfx supervisor Tim Alexander says director Gore Verbinski “kept saying ‘If the audience suspects for a minute that any of these trains are fake, we’re dead. This is a Western; it’s not a summer visual effects movie.’ So the visual effects basically had to hide.” The final act train sequences, for example, used only a single practical train car — “So anytime you see more than that, it’s an extension,” says Alexander — and extensive digital backgrounds.

On “Rush,” the vfx team worked with director Ron Howard and d.p. Anthony Dod Mantle from early pre-production and gave them tools to find the film’s bold visual styles, and to solve problems ahead of the shoot.

For example, for the rain-drenched climactic race, the original plan was to construct massive rain towers at the track where they’d be filming. But then vfx supervisor Jody Johnson, Mantle and Howard went to watch cars zoom down on a wet track.

“We realized what was needed wasn’t the rain coming down, because that’s something vfx can do,” says Johnson. “What was needed was the big ‘rooster tails’ of water coming up behind them. So we realized we don’t need rain towers, we just need to wet down the track.

“Having that kind of close relationship, and being really involved with everyone else working on the film, we could help with those decisions and allow each piece of the orchestra to do its job.”