Oscars: A Look at the 10 Remaining VFX Contenders

9:00 AM 1/2/2017

by Carolyn Giardina

On Jan. 7, the VFX branch will view 10-minute excerpts from each film and vote for which films to nominate.

'The Jungle Book' director Jon Favreau (center) shot Sethi, as Mowgli, and a puppet stand-in for Baloo on a bluescreen set.
'The Jungle Book' director Jon Favreau (center) shot Sethi, as Mowgli, and a puppet stand-in for Baloo on a bluescreen set.
Courtesy of Disney Enterprises

With ten films on the shortlist for the VFX Oscar, the Academy’s visual effects branch will next gather on Jan. 7 to view 10-minute excerpts from each of these films. Following the screenings, the members will vote to nominate five of them for final Oscar consideration.

Here's a look that the work that remains in contention.

  • 'Arrival'

    Paramount

    Paramount Pictures

    To create an unexpected look for Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi film, VFX supervisor Louis Morin designed a CG spaceship that was as sleek as a polished stone. "The Montana base camp was extended virtually and populated by a CG battalion," says Morin. "CG aliens were created to have whale-looking skin, no anthropomorphic features, seven legs and to float and interact with their misty environment and communicate using liquid shapes."

  • 'The BFG'

    Disney

    Courtesy of Storyteller Distributuion Co.

    The key to the film was the bond between young orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) and the Big Friendly Giant, a fully CG character based on Mark Rylance's performance capture. Says VFX supervisor Guy Williams of Weta Digital: "Mark was shot using our 'Moody Mocap' on a stage with complex lighting, texture and terrain to more closely approximate a full production shoot. Artists manipulated a facial model with more than 1,000 expressions to re-create even the smallest details of Mark's acting."

  • 'Captain America: Civil War'

    Disney/Marvel

    Zade Rosenthal/Marvel 2016

    "The biggest challenge was keeping the visual effects believable in a superhero world," says VFX supervisor Dan DeLeeuw. "We wanted the effects to be invisible even though a 50-foot Ant-Man is fighting in a CG airport with Iron Man and a web-slinging Spider-Man. Ant-Man was motion capture combined with a six-camera rig to capture Paul Rudd's facial performance." The team also digitally enhanced Robert Downey Jr. to create a young Tony Stark.

  • 'Deepwater Horizon'

    Lionsgate

    David Lee/Summit Entertainment

    To make this Peter Berg film, VFX had to believably put the actors on the infamous oil-drilling rig, which was done with a combination of sets and extensive CG. "Some of the main VFX challenges included a complete CG underwater environment, simulating tens of thousands of pounds of mud in a high-pressure blowout, over 30 minutes of story where the entire rig is constantly erupting in flames as well as a fully realized CG oil rig set in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico," says VFX supervisor Craig Hammack.

  • 'Doctor Strange'

    Disney/Marvel

    Courtesy of Marvel

    For the film's 1,450 shots, the VFX team had to design all types of magic — including "changing environments or playing with time or dimensions," says VFX supervisor Stephane Ceretti. "It was about making aspects of everyday life behave in a different way, in a way that's not natural."

  • 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them'

    Warner Bros.

    Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros.

    The work on this J.K. Rowling-scripted film included designing and animating 17 types of beasts, such as bowtruckles, nifflers and the largest creature, the rhinolike Erumpent. Key was making them "feel both tangible and characterful," say VFX supervisors Christian Manz and Tim Burke. "For one of the many digital characters, Gnarlak, played by Ron Perlman, we utilized performance capture nuanced with layers of animation."

  • 'The Jungle Book'

    Disney

    Courtesy of Disney

    Shot on bluescreen stages, the movie's only live action is Mowgli (Neel Sethi) and whatever small piece of set he stood or climbed on. The rest is a rich, photo real CG jungle, a VFX collaboration with production design and cinematography, says VFX supervisor Rob Legato. About 70 different species of CG animals were created for the production, including the key characters of Baloo the bear, Shere Khan the tiger and Kaa the python.

  • 'Kubo and the Two Strings'

    Focus Features/Laika

    Courtesy of Laika Studios/Focus Features

    "Everything is rooted in a live-action VFX workflow; we are shooting real sets, real puppets and real-world lighting," says VFX supervisor Steve Emerson, explaining how Laika's "hybrid" film combines live-action photography with digital effects. This included set extensions, digital skies, CG crowds and water.

  • 'Passengers'

    Sony

    Jaimie Trueblood/Columbia Pictures

    Roughly 1,500 VFX shots were created for this sci-fi film — environments that involved set extensions and bluescreen. Sometimes stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt wore space suits that actually were CG creations; other times their digital doubles were used in space. A zero-gravity pool sequence was especially tricky, according to VFX supervisor Erik Nordby of MPC: "We studied how objects behave in zero-G, and the elements relied on fluid simulation."

  • 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story'

    Disney/Lucasfilm

    Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm

    [SPOILER] The most talked about digital effects work since Rogue One opened has been the return of some iconic Star Wars characters including the late Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin and a New Hope-era Princess Leia, the character played by Carrie Fisher, who died last week. In all, the film's 1,700 VFX shots include numerous CG characters and environments (including the planets Eadu and Jedha, as well as Yavin 4, the jungle-covered moon where the Rebel base is located as first seen in A New Hope). Robot K-2SO was played by Alan Tudyk using ILM's on-set performance capture.

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