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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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"The Lone Ranger"
"The Lone Ranger"

As for "The Lone Ranger," Gore Verbinski and ILM's supervisor Tim Alexander utilized a 50/50 rule about splitting CG and practical until the bravura train chase finale, which inevitably turned mostly CG. "It was such a conscious decision from Gore to scout and shoot the film in a different way aesthetically. It put a burden on our shoot which went on for a very long time. Surprises were weather, being in uncontrolled conditions in New Mexico [where it snowed in May] and the Four Corners. And making sure that the right train was in the right order at the right train track in the morning was a big deal."

One of the things Alexander liked about fellow ILM nominee, 'Into Darkness,' was the virtual San Francisco chase and that it shows off some of its latest water work with the Enterprise, leveraging from "Battleship" and "Pacific Rim." "The best part of the 'Iron Man 3' reel was the house coming down. It looks very realistic. One of the parts I enjoyed most about 'Smaug' was the down-the-river chase with the barrels. Very cool and the water simulations are good and it's well choreographed and very funny. 'Gravity' is beautiful. I was on the edge of my seat watching their reel. Again, I saw it in stereo in the theater and they had to basically cut their whole film down to 10 minutes and I think that some of the really amazing stuff was the camera work that they did and the large-scale simulations they did of the space station getting destroyed."

Star Trek Into Darkness

For ILM's Roger Guyett, "Star Trek Into Darkness" brought us deeper into the "Trek" universe. He's currently prepping Abrams' "Star Wars: Episode VII," and embracing the same philosophy: "If you can afford to build it, then build it. Because you have a real space for that to react to. You have lighting that makes sense -- there's no cheating going on.

"And part of the fun in working with J.J. over the years is that you realize how important the emotional context is [with Cumberbatch reintroducing arch-enemy Kahn]. And he's extremely economical in his use of visual effects. What is the point of the shot and how are you connecting to the audience in the moment? So much of the 'Trek' movie is done in the digital world and so you have to be keenly aware of why you're doing something because a shot is not going to resonate with him unless he immediately understands what the impact of that story moment is."

Guyett thinks the Academy could have selected any five of the 10 contenders. "Obviously Joe Letteri and those guys at Weta have that Middle-Earth world down. And clearly Peter Jackson and the audience love the characterizations that are built into that. And there's a lot of hidden work there with all of the scales to work out. I think Tim and his team on 'Lone Ranger' did such a great job of putting these complicated scenes together with multiple elements and trying to work very hard in disguising the blends. And the scale of the work on 'Iron Man' is great, and I like the [barrel of monkeys] sequence. And 'Gravity' really is just very spectacular in combining the different elements of what visual effects can be now, and the choreography that Alfonso [Cuaron] did in designing the shots. I think their real challenge was making it look photorealistic and actually making the shots work the way Alfonso wanted."


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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