Sunday, January 8, 2017

Comments on the Visual Effects Bake Off 2017

This post collects a review from Joseph Goldstone of the Bakeoff Screening and my response from Facebook. Neither Joseph nor myself are members of the Academy Visual Effects branch, although Joseph does a lot of work for the Academy and will no doubt be a member one day in my estimation.

Joseph knows Rob Legato from Digital Domain and I know him from Robert Abel and Associates. Thus Rob represents a homeboy and local favorite to us.  Rob is visual effects supervisor on Jungle Book.

Joseph Goldstone writes:

I was unprepared for how good Jungle Book was; the creation of a virtual environment and the interactive lighting was just extraordinary. Rob Legato consistently pushes the state of the art, about once every half-dozen years.

Passengers was another surprise; it's one of the few features I would actually WANT to see in 3D, given the design of that colony ship.

But the big surprise was how convincing the effects were for Deepwater Horizon. I was completely gripped.

If I were looking for another high point I might pick Peter Cushing's synthesized performance in Rogue One, which I found much more impressive than their one-shot of a young Carrie Fisher.

The BFG just left me cold. As for Captain America: Civil War, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Doctor Strange, and Arrival, the execution was superb, but (except perhaps for the astonishing visual weirdness of Dr. Strange, as if Escher was a moviemaker) the content was not novel. Kubo and the Two Strings is beautiful, and might make the final four just because there's something about the level of investment that stop-motion animators make over two solid years of knocking out 3 seconds a week that just shows tremendous heart. It showed last, which is the best place to be when you're asking for a sympathy vote.

Talking and singing animals are really not my thing, but damned if I wouldn't give my top-rank vote to Jungle Book, based on it having pushed the envelope harder than anything else.

As always, the VFX branch acts as a filter for quality and novelty of the work itself, and then the general membership undoes that by voting for cuteness. Sorry, I will never forgive the general membership giving the award to Babe and passing up Apollo 13. Never.

Global Wahrman replies:

Regarding Apollo 13 and Babe, I remember being struck by that award as well. When I saw Apollo 13 I was amazed at how seamless it was and that it might present a problem when the awards came because the general membership might not realize they were seeing visual effects. I was approached for Babe but could not take it at the time (big mistake I suppose, although I think Scott definitely did a better job than I would have).

I think that the issue with Dr. Strange was that neither you nor I are fans of the comic and that if we were we might be more impressed with the imagery. I loved the Cloak of Levitation, best part of the movie for me.

As for Arrival, I could not get beyond the fact that an alien invasion movie *must* contain more gunfights, car chases and Jeff Goldblum. I am joking.

Generally stop motion does not do well at this level because there are so few stop motion people in the visual effects subsection.

I did not understand why Capt America Civil War was even on the list, unless they felt they had to pad it. Yes, there was a lot of it. Yawn.

It is odd how movies show at this screening. The year of Cast Away I was shocked at how good that showed at the screening. And how badly, for example, Gladiator did, even though Gladiator was obviously a really interesting film. If you get the chance, read the NY Times Magazine article on Deepwater Horizon, it is a great, great story. I would not be surprised if the movie was not based on that article.

As for Rob Legato, I know him from Abel's and one night he was working on an Eastern Airlines commercial on camera 2 all by himself in the middle of the night. The man deserves the best just for enduring that. Ive only seen bits and pieces of Jungle Book, but it looked great. It should be the winner.

Cushing vs Leia, in terms of impact, I am told that Leia wins hand down. This is perhaps because that movie is so grim that it needed an upbeat moment. We can not separate the visual effects from the emotion and content of the film, much as some would like.

At the end of the day (or in this case, a very long night), the problem with the visual effects bakeoff is that they only show visual effects films. (sarcasm alert) I was disappointed that Independence Day Resurgence was not there. Was there another movie this year as stupid as that? How about a fight between giant robots? Is visual effects losing its touch with the common filmgoer?

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