By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood January 16, 2014 at 2:00PM
As anticipated, Alfonso Cuaron's blockbuster "Gravity" dominated the Oscar nominations this morning with 10 (tied with "American Hustle"), of which seven were craft-related (VFX, cinematography, production design, editing, sound editing, sound mixing, and original score). Meanwhile, best picture frontrunners "12 Years a Slave" and "American Hustle" each scored three craft noms.
The uniqueness of "Gravity" in pushing the boundaries of virtual production was that it was essentially made as an animated movie by Cuaron, his department heads, and London-based Framestore. This was the best way to achieve the weightlessness. In fact, everything in space was fully prevised, pre-lit and animated except for the faces of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. And the team was assisted by a new twist on some old techniques with the Light Box, robotic cameras, and wire rigs.
Thus, taken as a whole, the "Gravity" craft noms represent the making of a complex digital jigsaw puzzle, which was reverse-engineered and pieced together over a four-year period. It involved production design (Andy Nicholson, production designer; Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard, set decoration), cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), VFX (Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould), sound editing (Glenn Freemantle), sound mixing (Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro), score (Steven Price), and editing (Cuaron and Mark Sanger). And it's likely that "Gravity" will sweep them all.
Here's the total crafts breakdown:
In VFX, "Gravity" is joined by "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" (Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds), "Iron Man 3" (Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash and Dan Sudick), "The Lone Ranger" (Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams and John Frazier), and "Star Trek Into Darkness" (Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann and Burt Dalton). The big surprise here is that "Pacific Rim" from Cuaron's buddy, Guillermo del Toro, didn't make the cut, despite great work by ILM. However, ILM is represented by both "The Lone Ranger" (terrific train mayhem) and the "Star Trek" sequel directed by J.J. Abrams, matching real and virtual action and futuristic environs for San Francisco and London. "Iron Man 3" (a joint collaboration principally between Digital Domain, Weta Digital, and Trixter) offers a new hero suit created by eight different companies, and "Smaug" touts the best CG dragon ever (voiced deliciously by Benedict Cumberbatch) along with a bear, spiders, and a barrel flume thrill ride.
Production design is additionally shared by "American Hustle" (Production Design: Judy Becker; Set Decoration: Heather Loeffler), "The Great Gatsby" (Production Design: Catherine Martin; Set Decoration: Beverley Dunn), "Her" (Production Design: K.K. Barrett; Set Decoration: Gene Serdena), and "12 Years a Slave" (Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Alice Baker) No surprises here -- it's all fascinating period or retro-looking work, ranging from the '70s disco of the David O. Russell comedic con game to the '20 Flapper look of Baz Luhrmann's hyper-real take on Fitzgerald to the warm, red glow of Spike Jonze's enchanting love story to the Goya-esque horror and beauty of Steve McQueen's slavery drama.