×

VFX Awards Contenders on Display at Disney Bake-Off

Following its record-busting 2019 box-office haul, Disney celebrated many of its biggest hits with its first VFX bake-off on Monday with five films and their VFX teams. They included such global juggernauts as “Avengers: Endgame,” “The Lion King,” “Captain Marvel” and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”

Also participating in the bake-off was “Alita: Battle Angel,” which Disney inherited from Fox.

All participants stressed that because of the increasingly ambitious nature – both technically and artistically, visual effects are no longer something you add in post – “They’re something you start planning and working on long before you even shoot a frame of film,” noted “Avenger’s Endgame’s” Matt Aitken, Weta Digital VFX supervisor. “And you have to collaborate very closely with everyone involved in the pipeline.”

It took many hands to do the heavy lifting on “Avengers: Endgame” (Weta, ILM, Framestore, DNeg, Cinesite, Digital Domain and other vendors worked on over 2,500 VFX shots).

MPC’s visual effects supervisor Elliot Newman reported, “We used about 1500 artists and animators from 30 countries to do about 1490 shots” for “The Lion King.”

“The Lion King’s” stunning photo-real visuals were led by Oscar-winning supervisor Rob Legato (“Avatar,” “The Jungle Book,” “Titanic”). Legato and his team created a revolutionary virtual production by previs’ing and then shooting in VR with a live-action crew that included six-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Caleb Deschanel. “Our intention was always to make a live action-looking movie that had animated characters and environments,” he said.

“So all the characters had to be brought up to a certain level of realism – not just in how they moved, but in how they talked and performed,” reported MPC animation supervisor Andy Jones. The team combined meticulously researched the character and set design to render each scene within a VR environment. The characters, and all their hair, muscles, and facial expressions, took about six months to create. “[Director] Jon [Favreau] wanted it to all feel as realistic as possible,” he added.

Performance and realism were also crucial in portraying “Alita: Battle Angel’s” titular character is “a totally CG manga cyborg who’s in a live-action film for over 90 minutes,” explained VFX supervisor Eric Saindon. “That was the big challenge, and it all started with casting the right actress to play Alita.” Producer James Cameron and director Robert Rodriguez ultimately cast Rosa Salazar in the lead, “and all the acting choices she made then informed all the VFX work we did to bring Alita to life,” added animation supervisor Mike Cozens.

It was also a year of innovation, especially in 3D CG animation (think Thanos and Smart Hulk in “Endgame”) and the creation of ultra-realistic water in “The Rise of Skywalker.” “We had to develop tools that allowed us to give [director] J.J. Abrams an understanding of how it’d move and give us the time to really finish all the details of it,” said ILM VFX supervisor Roger Guyett. And de-aging techniques – “we had over 600 shots for Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg,” noted Marvel’s VFX supervisor Janelle Croshaw Ralla – also pushed the VFX envelope.

 

“Alita: Battle Angel”

Alita Battle Angel

“Avengers: Endgame”

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel

“The Lion King”

THE LION KING - An example of the realtime unity viewport used during the virtual production phase of the project. © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
CREDIT: Walt Disney Studios

 

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Roger Guyett on the set of STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER
CREDIT: Jonathan Olley /Lucasfilm Ltd.

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • How 'Inception' VFX Supervisor May Leung

    Why 'Inception' Visual Effects Supervisor May Leung Is a Rare Gem

    For some unfortunate reasons, May Leung is an anomaly in the world of visual effects supervision. While there are plenty of women in the world of VFX at large, Leung is part of the only 5% of them who make it to the top role of supervisor. Her work has been featured in 38 films, including [...]

  • The Pennybox LTC Sandra Pennington

    How DIY Gear Is Helping Camera Crews Get the Job Done and Changing the Industry

    Cinematographers and their camera crews often tweak equipment to fit their needs. Sometimes it results in Garrett Brown inventing, designing and building the Oscar-winning Steadicam, or Nic Sadler developing the Artemis Director’s Viewfinder, which earned him an Engineering Emmy. But DPs and camera assistants regularly create tools and accessories to help them and their colleagues become [...]

  • Charm City Kings Movie

    How 'Charm City Kings' Cinematographer Throttled Up the Realism

    Puerto Rican director Ángel Manuel Soto stuck with his decision to bring on cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi for Sony’s “Charm City Kings” despite the studio’s desire for someone with more experience. Though Arizmendi’s credits included just a pair of indie features, Soto knew that her use of naturalistic light with touches of heightened realism were ideal [...]

  • Crip Camp

    How 'Crip Camp' Allowed Co-Director Jim LeBrecht Tell His Story of Representation

    The new Netflix documentary “Crip Camp” centers on Camp Jened, a summer camp for those with disabilities. As told in the doc, it would go on to spark something of a revolution in the disability rights movement. Filmmakers Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht (who had worked with Newnham as a sound designer on her projects) [...]

  • Self Made Netflix

    How Netflix's 'Self Made' Tells First Female Millionaire's Tale With Eclectic Soundtrack

    Netflix’s “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker,” the story of America’s first self-made female millionaire, takes place between 1908 and 1918. But the music, instead of focusing on the early jazz that might be expected, runs the gamut from ragtime to hip-hop. “Madam C.J. Walker is a central, seminal historical figure [...]

  • Mark Lanza

    Motion Picture of Sound Editors President on the Impact of Coronavirus on the Industry

    Mark Lanza, president of the Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE), has been working from home. This is the new norm for him (and thousands of others) as a supervising sound editor. Before the coronavirus pandemic shut down production, Lanza, whose credits include “Manhunt” and “On Becoming a God in Central Florida,” was used to mixing [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content