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Crafts Roundup: Talking VFX with the Five Oscar Nominees

Photo of Bill Desowitz 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.
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Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone in Gravity
Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone in Gravity

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." 

Gravity set

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.

Which is wny the more expansive VES nominated Bullock's animated Ryan along with Smaug, China Girl from "Oz the Great and Powerful," and the Leatherback Kaiju from "Pacific Rim."

This article is related to: Crafts Round-up, VFX, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger, Star Trek Into Darkness, Thompson on Hollywood, Awards, Awards Season Roundup, Oscars


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.