After much speculation following a year of amazing film releases, we now know which movies will compete head to head for the coveted Oscar.
To no one’s surprise, James Cameron’s Avatar (from Twentieth Century Fox and Lightstorm Entertainment) is one of the three finalists in a number of categories, including Best Visual Effects. The film, which just this past weekend earned another $30 million, is on the cusp of breaking the domestic box-office record, which, coincidentally, may occur today. As of Sunday, the film is estimated to have raked in $594.5 million—a mere $6 million behind the record set by Cameron’s other blockbuster, Titanic, released in 1998. Avatar has already surpassed the worldwide record, earning more than $2 billion globally—besting Titanic’s $1.8 billion mark. That since the movie’s December 18 release.
No question, the film is popular at the theater. What makes it so attractive? First off, it has all the requisite elements: a love story, a sci-fi wrapping, a good-vs.-evil theme, and a touch (or more) of violence. It is popular for everyone—boys, girls, teens, adults. Second, viewers have anticipated the movie since hearing about it years ago. Third, there was the hype surrounding the CG technology used to create the movie. And the film lived up to the hype, no question. The techniques used to create Avatar will have a lasting effect on Hollywood, but most important, they fit hand-in-glove with the movie, as opposed to the movie simply fitting with the technology. The entire filmmaking process was a cutting-edge achievement. In terms of digital effects within the movie, one has to consider the lush and breathtaking Pandora environments, the amazing CG creatures that inhabit the planet, and the lifelike CG characters, animated with breakthrough performance capture. And of course, the stereoscopic 3D pushes Avatar to new heights.
(Click here to link to the CGW feature in the December issue detailing the work.)
The second nominee is Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, from TriStar Pictures. This documentary-style movie is on another budgetary planet from Avatar, having been produced with just $30 million, but the visual effects money was obviously well spent. And for the VFX industry, the movie is a great example of a “local boy done well.” Blomkamp, a grad from Vancouver Film School’s 3D Animation and Visual Effects program, worked as an animator on popular TV series, such as Smallville and Stargate SG-1, but with District 9, he made his directorial debut. And what a debut it turned out to be. Among the heralded achievements: the blending of invented documentary, corporate video, television news coverage, and live-action footage made to look as if shot by a cameraman on scene. The VFX elements, including the CG aliens and the huge alien mother ship, keep audiences immersed in the heart-moving story. The VFX are not flashy, but they are vital to the storytelling.
(Click here to link to the CGW feature in the September issue detailing the work.)
The third VFX finalist is another sci-fi movie, Star Trek, from Paramount Pictures. Only those living in another universe have not heard of the franchise. And for the seventh time, ILM helped create the movie magic that is vital to taking JJ Abram’s Star Trek out of this world, and back. Although ILM took on 850 of the 1000 VFX shots, a handful of other studios assisted, and all of them indeed gave the movie a fresh, new look while keeping true to the revered property. In terms of visual effects, state-of-the-art simulation systems combined with particles offered us an amazing glimpse of planets exploding. Also, the spaceships were so highly detailed that you forget that they are not real.
(Click here to link to the CGW story in the May issue detailing the work.)
With only three coveted spots on the Oscar VFX short list, the competition was fierce, resulting in some amazing work left without hope of a statue, including Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, 2012, and a number of others, all deserving of recognition.
Vying for the Oscar in the category of Best Animated Film are five finalists.
Coraline, a stereoscopic stop-motion animated movie from Focus Features, continues to wow folks. Today, audiences are enthusiastic with gleaming CGI work, but this nomination shows that the appreciation for the painstaking work involved in stop motion is still appreciated. Coraline has an amazing organic quality to it, and the VFX are touted for their relevance to the story, as is the stereo 3D. Laika and director Henry Selick used 3D to take Coraline into a magical land, while keeping a 2D approach when she is in the real world. It is a combination that pushed the film into Oscar nominee status.
(Click here to link to the CGW story in the November 2008 issue of CGW.)
Another amazing stop-motion movie is Twentieth Century Fox’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Here again, CGI was used sparingly, with handcrafted animation and modeling taking center stage. The work was tedious, but the quality prevailed in this Wes Anderson-directed film. Unlike Coraline, though, the movie drew both rave reviews and criticism, as viewers either loved it or weren’t so impressed. But no one can argue that the story and charm prevailed and worked nicely with the stop-motion style. Obviously, enough loved it.
(Click here to link to the CGW story in the January 2010 issue of CGW.)
The third nominee, The Princess and the Frog, also shows the richness of classic animation done well. Indeed, the story, the characters, the scenery have all the elements of a Disney classic, and that is exactly what this film will become. While the movie is hand-drawn, that does not mean that digital elements were not used. Maya helped set designers build reference models, Houdini was used for particle effects, Photoshop was helpful to the background painters, and Toon Boom’s Harmony was vital in the production process. With New Orleans as a backdrop, the movie magic sure shines through.
(Click here to link to the CGW story in the January 2010 issue of CGW.)
The Secret of Kells, the fourth nominee, is an Irish-Belgian-French animated feature from Cartoon Saloon. Unfamiliar with it? It was released starting in February 2009 in France, but will debut in the US this March. It features an extremely stylized aesthetic, with exaggerated character features. The 2D aesthetic is simplistic looking, but wonderful nonetheless.
And lastly, Up, from Disney/Pixar. It has romance, adventure...and stereo 3D. The story is endearing, and the CG is adventurous. The backgrounds are gorgeous, the human characters tug at your heart, and the wildlife captures your spirit. And the style...well, it’s definitely Pixar, but carried to another level. As with all the studio’s films, tremendous thought was given to the aesthetic and the story. Geometric shapes rule the world in Up; they form the basis for the movie’s visual style. And what a style that is! It’s difficult to get beyond the story and aesthetic, because both are done so well, but on the technology end, Pixar continued to raise the bar with new CG techniques.
(Click here to link to the CGW story in the June issue of CGW.)
Similar to the VFX category, there were a number of amazing CG animated films that did not make the final cut. Shane Acker’s 9 turned heads, and Hayao Miyazaki’s classic animation Ponyo charmed theater-goers. In Disney’s A Christmas Carol, ImageMovers and Robert Zemeckis continued to forge ahead with performance capture and other techniques for this 3D movie, while Sony’s Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs was a scrumptious treat for all. Also deserving a recognition: The lovable Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs from Blue Sky and Fox, and Monsters vs. Aliens, a monstrous hit from DreamWorks. Both used stereoscopic 3D in truly wonderful ways.
Who will win the golden statue? Stay tuned.