Visual effects aren’t always the realm of the bright and the shiny.

Just as often, f/x tools are used to create a distressed, gritty and grounded reality, as they were in two of this year’s vfx Oscar-nommed films — “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Interstellar.”

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“Interstellar” and “Captain America” take audiences on radically different journeys but both aimed for a sense of photorealism – either through the use of theoretical consultants or stacks of reference photos.

In “Captain America,” the vfx teams had to almost work against the perfection of their own digital tools.

“You really have to have artists go in and distress (CG) helicopters and ships by hand for it to be convincing,” says Russell Earl, vfx supervisor on “Captain America.” “And that just takes lots of time.”

The “Captain America” team also created a 92-year-old version of Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter by having an older actress read Atwell’s speech and then merging that image with Atwell playing the same scene.

“Having a real reference point you must match always makes for the most realistic effects,” says vfx supervisor Dan DeLeeuw, also nommed for “Captain America.”

“Interstellar” had to use cutting-edge scientific theory as a starting point, with a little cinematic flourish for good measure. Their rendering of the image of a black hole incorporated the latest physics — and the result surprised almost everyone, including astronomers.

“Interstellar” vfx supervisor Paul Franklin used large projection screens on set so the actors could react to the black hole and other images from the vfx team while they were performing inside the film’s space ship set or elsewhere.

“Their genuine response to what we were doing also makes it more real for the audience because when they see the actors believing what we’re doing, a lot of the work is already done,” says Franklin.