×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Live-Action and Animated Films Vie for Glory at Visual Effects Society Awards

Today's technology lets artists create spectacular visuals for any kind of story they want to tell

Visual effects may sometimes seem like a “dark art” to moviegoers, but if they could attend the Visual Effects Society’s annual awards show their minds would be enlightened — and blown.

Honoring advances in character creation, model making, simulations of nature, and virtual camerawork, the VES nominations reflect today’s trends in both live action and animation — and as usual, several noms went to visual effects blockbusters, including “Rogue One” (seven), “Doctor Strange” and “The Jungle Book” (six apiece).

This trio is competing directly for their cinematography techniques and photo-real simulations. The invented forests of “Jungle Book” were front-and-center, while “Doctor Strange” was singled out for its surreal cityscapes. Especially notable was Hong Kong’s “reverse destruction,” which Marvel vfx supervisor Stephane Ceretti admits doesn’t usually happen in superhero movies.

“We know we can do destruction; we wanted to be original and go the other way,” he says. Created on ILM’s London stage, the Hong Kong sequence alone took 23 nights to shoot.

Among the nominations for “Rogue One,” a standout is a face-replacement for the classic “Star Wars” character Grand Moff Tarkin. The late Peter Cushing performed the role originally, and ILM developed a way to resurrect his character for scenes in “Rogue One.”

“We cast an actor to play the role on set,” says vfx supervisor John Knoll. Then animators replaced the face of the new actor with a digital version of Cushing — careful to track the character’s eyes and avoid the dreaded pitfall of the so-called uncanny valley. As Knoll puts it, “Rather than using makeup to transform the actor’s appearance, we did it with computer graphics.”

When it came to character performances, two nominations for “The Jungle Book” mean the film is competing against itself. The ape King Louie, voiced by Christopher Walken, with motion-capture input from actor-director Jon Favreau, is up against Shere Khan, the terrifying tiger voiced by Idris Elba.

Legato’s teams at effects houses MPC and Weta Digital followed the dictum that these animals (even though they delivered dialogue) shouldn’t run or leap differently than real animals. “Just because you can do something,” stresses Legato, “doesn’t mean you should.”

A similar dilemma faces “Kubo and the Two Strings,” whose six VES noms include performance nods for two characters. That the hair of Kubo and the fur of Monkey were animated frame-by-frame impressed all the experts.

The crew at “Kubo” creator Laika Studios is also competing against itself in the category of created environments, notably for the moving water effects they developed by manipulating — among other things — plastic trash bags. “We had one of the best water guys in the business,” says vfx supervisor Steve Emerson. That would be David Horsley, who previously contributed to the Oscar-winning vfx in “Life of Pi” and is nominated for two VES awards this year.

Crossover talent like that illustrates why VES honors the imagery of both live action and animated films. Disney Animation’s “Moana” and Pixar’s “Finding Dory”: were nommed for their expressive CG characters as well as their digitally animated water, key to the storylines in both movies.

The Visual Effects Society also singled out creative efforts in several other franchise blockbusters from throughout the year, including “Deadpool,” “Zootopia,” “Star Trek Beyond,” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

Viewed broadly, the scope of this year’s VES nominees reveal that the animation and visual effects businesses are fostering an international talent base, enabled by increasingly powerful software and the ability to collaborate via high-speed, secure networks. Improving technology, as VES nominee Legato concludes, “provides the ultimate backlot. You can now make any story you want.”

(Shown above: “Doctor Strange”)

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • Advanced Imaging Society Honors 10 Women

    AIS Honors 10 Women in Tech

    Celebrating 10 years of achievement in entertainment technology, the Advanced Imaging Society today named 10 female industry innovators who will receive the organization’s 2019 Distinguished Leadership Awards at the its 10th annual Entertainment Technology Awards ceremony on October 28 in Beverly Hills. The individuals were selected by an awards committee for being significant “entertainment industry [...]

  • Will Smith Gemini Man Special Effects

    How the 'Gemini Man' VFX Team Digitally Created a Younger Version of Will Smith

    More human than human — yes, that’s a “Blade Runner” reference — yet it sounds like an unattainable standard when it comes to creating believable, photorealistic, digital human characters. But the visual effects team on Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man” set its sights on something even more difficult: creating a digital version of young Will Smith [...]

  • Jest to Impress Cartoon Network Virtual

    New In-House VR Program Helps Cartoon Network Artists Add a Virtual Dimension

    Teams of animators and artists from across Cartoon Network’s numerous properties are getting the chance to expand into virtual reality storytelling via the company’s pilot program, Journeys VR. The work of the first three teams — including experiences based on action, nature and comedy — was unveiled to global audiences Oct. 1 on Steam and [...]

  • Frozen 2

    How the 'Frozen II' Artists Created Believable Emotion Through Animation

    “The more believable you can make the character [look], the more people believe how [it’s] feeling,” says Tony Smeed, who, with Becky Bresee, shared the challenge of heading animation on Disney’s highly anticipated “Frozen II.” “Emotion comes from inside and manifests itself into actions and facial expressions. Anything beyond that is movement for the sake [...]

  • Lucy in the Sky BTS

    'Lucy in the Sky' DP Shifts Frame to Show Inner Turmoil of Natalie Portman's Astronaut

    What drew cinematographer Polly Morgan to “Lucy in the Sky” was how Noah Hawley’s script so clearly illuminated the emotional breakdown of astronaut Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) in a way that felt very insular: The visual cues were on the page — and conveyed an unusual approach to charting the character’s journey. “When things fall [...]

  • NICKI LEDERMAN and JOAQUIN PHOENIX Joker

    How Makeup, Hair and Costume Team Gave 'Joker' a New Look for Origin Story

    “We’re not in the superhero world,” says Nicki Ledermann, makeup head on Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” which reimagines the iconic comic book villain’s origin in an acclaimed performance from Joaquin Phoenix. “This story is treated as real life, and that’s what made the project so interesting.” In this most recent take on Batman’s nemesis — a [...]

  • Exceptional Minds VFX Autism Training

    VES Honoree Susan Zwerman Trains People on the Autism Spectrum for Film, TV Jobs

    Most of those who have earned the honor of VES Fellow in the past decade have been recognized by the Visual Effects Society for on-screen innovation. But this year’s honoree, Susan Zwerman, is equally distinguished by her off-screen accomplishments. Zwerman is the studio executive producer for Exceptional Minds, a visual effects and animation school for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content