Highs and Lows
Issue: Volume 37 Issue 2: (Mar/Apr 2014)

Highs and Lows

As we transition out of Oscar mode, many of us can’t help but think back to one year ago when the ugly side of the industry surfaced. That was when yet another visual effects facility, Rhythm & Hues, filed for Chapter 11. Perhaps what was even more tragic was the fact that this came just weeks after its big project, Life of Pi, opened in theaters. To add insult to injury, while the employees should have been basking in the glory of their two Oscar nominations for visual effects ( Life of Pi and Snow White and the Huntsman), instead they had to face the grim news of layoffs. The documentary “Life After Pi” (www.hollywoodendingmovie.com) examines R&H’s grim situation – one piece of this global puzzle and the first chapter in the movie Hollywood Ending, which takes an expansive look at the problems affecting those working in this industry.

Visual effects studios focus on creating reality where none exists. In the feature “Unseen Beauty” on page 16, we examine the environments – from the photoreal to the artistic – that were digitally built or extended for a number of historical-focused VFX films that have recently hit theaters: 300: Rise of an Empire, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and The Monuments Men.

For the biblical movie Noah, visual effects crews were tasked with constructing a digital ark, conjuring up an epic flood, and creating a menagerie of creatures, among other things. For the pre-flood shots, a real set with a partially built ark was used. In an online featurette, Director Darren Aronofsky discusses the “practical” side of the work at http://yhoo.it/1ih1TkK.

Traveling back in time was the central theme of DreamWorks Animation’s CG feature Mr. Peabody & Sherman. In the story “Time Difference” on page 10, PDI/DreamWorks provided a 3D makeover on the cartoon characters from “Peabody's Improbable History” from 50-plus years ago. The premise of the delightful ‘toon remains the same today as it was then: The dog Mr. Peabody adopts the human Sherman and invents the WABAC time machine, then their adventures begin. What has changed drastically is the look of the characters and backdrops, which have a slick, detailed CGI appearance that looks even more futuristic and fantastic in stereo 3D as the characters visit past civilizations, including ancient Greece.
While the ancient Greeks did not compete on snow-covered mountains or on ice rinks, cold-weather sports have been included in the Olympics for 90 years. Recently, we were treated to the highs and lows of these ultra competitors.

Underdogs sometimes climb to the top of the podium, while front-runners sometimes slip, fall, crash, or collapse in defeat. While the Games are all about the fine-tuned athletes, in some events, like the bobsled race, technology plays an important role as well (see “American Made” on page 34).

9In VFX, animation, and digital design, artists – like accomplished athletes – must perform at the top of their game and compete on an international stage, where they can experience the thrill of victory in a job well done and, at times, the agony of defeat due to forces beyond their control.