VFX Bake-Off 2019/VFX Oscar Noms
So, a couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of being invited to attend the visual Effects Bake-Off. For those not in the know, the VFX Bake-Off is the presentation by the Academy where the ten films chosen to be the finalists in the achievement for Visual Effects Oscar are shown, and then the Academy members pick the 5 official nominations for the Academy Awards.
It’s a long presentation – about 4 hours – but it’s interesting to see the process, and to sit in the same room as some legends of the visual effects community. Guys like John Dykstra (invented effects camera rigs for Star Wars) and Richard Edlund (whom Dykstra picked to also work on Star Wars), and many other legendary people in the visual effects world are right there. And for a film nerd like me, it’s a treat.
So, this year’s ten choices were these, in no particular order:
Ant-Man and The Wasp
Avengers: Infinity War
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Mary Poppins Returns
ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Welcome To Marwen
Now, seeing as the Academy Award nominiations have been announced, it’s interesting to see what five have made the cut this year.
The current nominations are:
Avengers: Infinity War
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Honestly, I feel like there are a couple switches that I’d make, but clearly I’m not a member of the Academy. I feel like Solo: A Star Wars Story had great effects, however, I didn’t feel like there was anything vastly ground-breaking. It’s not like back in the 70′ or 80’s when these were new films. Dykstra and Edlund did all the innovative stuff then. Now it’s just building on that. But again, it’s been almost 40 years. Lots of advancements in digital effects, but nothing we haven’t seen many times now. I feel like just because it’s a Star Wars film, it has to be nominated.
I could say similar things about Ready Player One. It was visually amazing, but still a lot of completely CG’d environments. In the grand scheme of things, it was mostly like watching a big video game.
Instead though, I might have chosen to include Ant-Man and The Wasp for the unique type of things that were required – the extreme size changes and comparisons, for instance. Integrating the live action with those kinds of CG elements is a big challenge for an effects team to make work. The audience needs to believe those effects are real, and I thought they nailed it.
Mary Poppins Returns may seem like a boring choice to include, especially since it didn’t have as much overall effects scenes, but they did some things that just don’t get done anymore. It says a lot to me that they brought retired Disney animators out of retirement to draw the 2D animation, and then integrated that with some digital elements to give us a kind of animation we haven’t seen in many years. It’s a special kind of work we likely won’t see much again, if ever.
I also might have added Welcome to Marwen. the effects choices there are also so unique. Leave it to director Robert Zemekis to make some interesting and unique choices in digital effects. To make the people look like articulated dolls is pretty cool, especially since it was so integral to the material.
However, I can see why they chose the films they did, I just thought those couple of changes would have been worthwhile.
It’s certainly not to say that I didn’t like Ready Player One or Solo: A Star Wars Story, I just felt that there were unique elements to the effects that made them stand out for me.
And as far as Avengers: infinity War, it’s almost interchangeable with Black Panther. Either one could have been in the five nominations, really. Both have an enormous amount of visual effects in them, and you could almost just close your eyes and throw a pin in one and whichever it lands on gets a nomination.
Other wise, based on some of the before and after footage I saw at the Bake-Off, First Man and Christopher Robin had some very unique challenges that resulted in very cool and unique solutions. First Man used original unseen footage from the moon landing that they had to match and incorporate new effects footage to make it all seamless. And Christopher Robin had the task of making Pooh and friends (as stuffed animals) look and feel like they were really in the live action space interacting with live actors. it was pretty cool to see some of that process.
So, with those, I can see the unique challenges the effects teams faced in order to make the effects shots seamless. it really is incredible what can be achieved these days.
Certainly all of the nominated films are impressive. I’ll be interested to see who wins. There was some buzz that First Man may win this category. But Avengers: Infinity War or Ready Player One feels like the way things will go.
The Oscars are coming up soon, so get your predictions in!