Films likely to rise at this year's Oscar VFX bake-off

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Paramount


There are lofty expectations surrounding this Dec. 25 release, which is said to have an impressive CG-enhanced version of Brad Pitt aging in reverse. Lead VFX house Digital Domain and Paramount are not yet commenting on the visual effects, but director David Fincher offers this: "The biggest visual effect of this movie is time -- its effect on people and their surroundings."
"The Dark Knight"
Warner Bros.


With about 40 minutes of the film shot in Imax, VFX supervisor Nick Davis explains that "we had to complete those visual effects also in Imax. We had to reinvent a lot of our pipeline, a lot of our tools, rendering, storage, lots of the fundamental ways we work on VFX because we were working in this higher resolution. We were working at 8K and 5.6K." Davis adds that challenges included "how much more detail you have to put in a CG object when it is created at that resolution and blown up to Imax screen size. It had to be incredibly precise."
"The Day the Earth Stood Still"
Fox


"The key points on the visual effects are: How to do spaceships and aliens without them looking like a sci-fi extravaganza; and what do we owe to the fan base of the original, being as that was such an iconic film for a generation of moviegoers," says VFX supervisor Jeff Okun. "We wanted the visual effects on this film to be ultrarealistic so that the story being told would not suffer from the sci-fi stigma," he adds. "We tried to think like aliens to inform us how they would build and use technology, how they would travel, what would their purpose be in coming here."
"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"
Paramount


"The idea was to be on location as much as possible and then augment (with visual effects) to finish telling the story," says VFX supervisor Pablo Helman, a veteran of Industrial Light + Magic. "We always started with principal photography, then we had miniatures, computer-generated elements, practical elements."

From a technical standpoint, ILM developed a new fracture tool, designed to break buildings, temples and valleys. Explains Helman: "There was a lot of structure in the movie that needed to behave in a specific way."
"Iron Man"
Paramount


Senior VFX supervisor John Nelson points to the goal of realism as the key to "Iron Man." "Primarily, the visual effects department was responsible for making the suits come to life," Nelson says.

He adds that the work also involved designing the action sequences and creating Tony Stark's world: "Some of the extra cool stuff is that we motion captured world-class skydivers in a 120 mph wind tunnel," Nelson relates. "This gave us great motion reference for what real flying looks like."
"The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor"
Universal


The cornerstone of the third "Mummy" installment was making the emperor and terra-cotta army come alive, according to visual effects supervisor Joel Hynek. Each warrior had to be an individual. "This involved creating a number of body types, heads and different crack shapes, and a procedural method for mixing and matching looks and varying their performance, color and texture," Hynek says.
"Wanted"
Universal


"It takes on a very unique perspective on the action sequences and certain conceptual things like bullets flying and bullets colliding," says VFX supervisor Stefen Fangmeier about the high-octane work, adding that the effects were "serving the creative vision of the director." Most of the VFX work occurred in the digital realm, and practical effects were also incorporated in the production. In the train accident sequence, Fangmeier explains: "All of the exteriors -- including the gorge, everything outside of the train -- were digitally created."
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