The Avengers, group

Unlike the Oscar race for best animated feature, there's already a clear front-runner for VFX: "The Avengers," with its dazzling work from Industrial Light & Magic (especially the Hulk). Of course, there's still quite a heated race ahead when Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" hits theaters December 14, boasting the latest and greatest from the wizards of Weta Digital in 3-D (including a new and improved Gollum). While there's still no telling what the impact of the controversial higher frame rate (48 fps) will be, "The Hobbit" should make a formidable challenger.

Plus, there's also "The Dark Knight Rises" to consider along with "Prometheus," "Snow White and the Huntsman," and "The Amazing Spider-Man," in addition to the upcoming "Cloud Atlas" (October 26), and "Life of Pi" (November 21).

But "The Avengers" has the advantage of also being the box office champ of 2012 and the third best domestic performer of all time with $620.3 million, not to mention a critical darling for Joss Whedon's fun and thrilling direction.

Still, Disney and ILM recently took the opportunity of presenting a VFX showcase in San Francisco for a contingent of online journos in anticipation of "The Avengers" coming out September 25 on Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D.

And viewing the impressive VFX breakdown footage in more detail (see the clips below of the Hulk, Iron Man, and the virtual New York City) offered a sneak peek of the presentation ILM has in store for the VFX committee during the Academy bakeoff next year. Mark Ruffalo's Hulk clearly steals the movie and is the best Hulk ever. That's because ILM wisely avoided the cartoony look of the ultra green superhero it created for Ang Lee's angst-ridden first movie, as well as the overly muscle-bound rendition Rhythm & Hues made for the second version starring Ed Norton. Right from the start Whedon wanted to see Ruffalo in the Hulk and viewed him more as a wrestler than a super strong guy. That meant capturing an authentic digital double of the actor as Bruce Banner and then placing it on top of the animated Hulk so they would meld into an organic creature.