Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Visual Effects Bakeoff for 2013

Tonight is the so-called Bakeoff  at the Academy for the Visual Effects nominations. The screening is for the Visual Effects subsection but anyone can attend, space permitting. Ten minutes of each film under consideration is shown, there is a question and answer period which guests can only listen to, and then the subsection members vote on which films will be nominated for visual effects.  This is a very long, very loud night.  I find it annoying but useful.

It is always nice to have an opportunity to see old friends.   And I don't really mind seeing the others as well.  

This year Gravity is going to win the Academy Award.   I have foreseen it with my tremendously expanded mental powers and the use of the esoteric knowledge.

The films which will be screened tonight, in no particular order, are

1. Gravity
2. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
3. Pacific Rim
4. Star Trek Into Darkness
5. Iron Man 3
6. World War Z
7. Oblivion
8. Elysium
9. The Lone Ranger
10. Thor: The Dark World

This is an interesting list. Not necessarily any great films here, but certainly a few entertaining ones. I have seen worse years.

Obviously everyone wants to win. But winning is very difficult so getting a nomination is much more likely and is also incredibly valuable to one's career. If one is trying to be an effects supervisor, to be nominated for an Academy Award is a big deal and explains some of the politics around who gets to be one of the "four" who are selected by the producer to be in consideration.

There is almost always a surprise that comes from seeing ten minutes from all these films at one time, or perhaps from the questions and answers from the effects team. But in advance of the screening, here is my take on why this is a very important year.

1. This is the year of solid state lighting.

This is the first year that the revolution in solid state lighting completely takes over on stage production in visual effects. Its been coming for a while, and many of the ideas are quite old, but the availability of arrays of LED's at reasonable prices has enabled this in a major way. Using film as a projection map was never very flexible, and using normal wheat lights would generate too much heat to be very practical. But using arrays of solid state lights to project environments brings a whole new level of sophistication to the "blue screen" plate photography process.  Now we can integrate live action photography into the visual effects, and visual effects into live action photography, with a whole new level of sophistication and accuracy.

Historical footnote: wheat lights used to be a significant part of model creation. The Bladerunner pyramid buildings, such as the Tyrell Headquarters, were models made with a lot of wheat lights. I saw the famous Las Vegas model made for One From the Heart years ago. Supposedy the lights on the thing either used to blow out the power supplies or melt the thing down from all the heat that the lights emitted.   Although one could and did build grids of this thing, and one could control them with computers, I doubt it was done much.  It just wan't practical.   LED's are now practical and there are lots of good components around to control them.  And you wont have to wait all the time to replace the damn little lights as they burn out.

A selection of wheat lamps from Bladerunner and EEG

2. This is the second part of the synthetic human breakout

The first element of the breakout was "Benjamin Button". This is the second. There may have to be a third before the tsunami of shit emerges of computer generated lead actors, or this may be sufficient. I am not sure, perhaps I will have an opinion after tonight.

3. Gravity wins and was in part distinguished by its effects

The award is for the film where the visual effects most support the movie and the story.  It is not for the best visual effects per se.  The classic example of that, for me, was the first Matrix movie which was truly enhanced by the visual effects.

For the second year in a row, a movie is distinguished and made notable by its visual effects (last year was Life of Pi). I do not know if this is a good thing or not, but its probably not a bad thing. If visual effects is to be worth all the money, this is a useful thing to have happen. If visual effects people are to rise above being considered commodities, having work that distinguishes themselves and is not just like everyone else's is also helpful.

4. American dominance of this award is completely over

This has been coming for a while.  American companies no longer dominate this award.   No one else beyond ILM or Sony is left except for maybe Digital Domain (I do not understand their status).  This has been true for quite a while now, but this year sets the pattern, I think.   I am less certain what this means for the nationality of the effects supervisor, however.  The award goes to the four people identified by the producer, but the facility that did the work also gets credit in practice.  Every year some films will be done at ILM or SONY, but the vast majority of effects will be done at facilities in London, New Zealand and Canada.

5. The nominations are ...

I think that Gravity and The Hobbit will be nominated.   I am rooting for Pacific Rim to be nominated because I think it is important to have giant mutated sea monsters in cinema from a content point of view.    

I will report back what happens.

1 comment:

  1. Where is JLaw? No nominations can happen unless they pay homage to the hottest actress around. Plus = she's actually funny and appears to be real.

    Who cares if she's human? Can't you just go synthesize her?