The VFX Oscar race has come down to zero-gravity and an innovative light box, a menacing dragon, Jaegers vs. Kaiju, three dystopian adventures, a "Star Trek" reboot with Khan, "Lone Ranger" train mayhem, and two Marvel superhero stalwarts. So let's go under the hood in anticipating the likely ammunition for the Academy's January 9th "bakeoff" in paring down the five nominees.


  • "Gravity": Photo-real outer space 3-D immersion and weightlessness as we've never experienced before in Alfonso Cuaron's breathtaking blockbuster. A reverse-engineered, animated jigsaw by Framestore, propelled by the light box with its LED panorama of projected footage on the panels (say goodbye to the green screen some day) and robotic motion control cameras by Bot & Dolly.
  •  "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug": Weta Digital's back with the best dinosaur ever seen onscreen (keyframed rather than performance-captured and voiced with menace and wit by Benedict Cumberbatch) along with a rollicking barrel flume chase that would make a thrilling theme park ride.
  • "Pacific Rim": Industrial Light & Magic added ray tracing (via the Arnold renderer) to its arsenal, which was easier to set up and enhanced the masterfully animated Jaegers and Kaiju, atmospherics, and water simulation with greater realism, taking the CG mise-en-scene to a new level of sophistication.

Contenders and long shots, after the jump...