By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood January 30, 2014 at 2:05PM
The "Gravity" juggernaut, the surprising entry of "The Lone Ranger," the new and improved "Iron Man 3," the ascendance of "Star Trek Into Darkness" and the J.J. Abrams factor, and the power of the eponymous dragon from "The Desolation of Smaug." We reflect on the great year for VFX with the lead supervisors of all five Oscar nominees.
"Everything about ['Gravity'] was a different process," reasserts Framestore's Tim Webber. "Because of the total physicality of what happens in space and the fact that that can't be replicated on Earth, we had to know what was going to happen in the final shot because it wouldn't necessarily be happening when we shot it. So in order to capture the right camera moves, the right lighting, the right performance, the right eye lines, we would have to know what was going to happen in incredible detail. And there were a multitude of tools, techniques, and tricks at different times."
Webber concedes that the lines were blurred between departments in this unconventional collaboration, especially cinematography and VFX, which has the Academy considering a new visual imaging category. But this was necessary to achieve the demands of the production, which was akin to animation, and the immersive experience. Even so, it's the performance of Sandra Bullock that matters most, according to Webber and his colleagues, "and there's no doubt that it is her performance on screen, even though certain aspects have been planned and manipulated and interpreted by the animators."
But Webber thought it was a vintage year for VFX worth celebrating: "Smaug in 'The Hobbit' movie is fantastic, and some of 'The Lone Ranger' work, which you wouldn't have necessarily thought was there, was amazing. 'Iron Man 3' is full of lots of good work that looks great. I had no idea that Guy Pearce's work at the end was CG for a couple of shots. 'Star Trek,' again, full of a lot of impressive work. It's a moment in visual effects history where it's filmmaking through the medium of visual effects, and that made it incredibly satisfying for me."
Interestingly, though, the Academy had no problem nominating Bullock for best actress despite the animated assistance while it has resisted nominating Andy Serkis for his performance-captured work as Gollum or Caesar. Undoubtedly, the difference lies in the use of Bullock's actual face. However, it's hard to deny that performance encompasses body language as well as face.