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Immersed in Movies: Revisiting 'The Avengers' and Handicapping the VFX Oscar Race

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood September 6, 2012 at 3:08PM

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...
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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.

This article is related to: Features, Awards, VFX, Franchises, Immersed In Movies


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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.