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Why ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Should Win the VFX Oscar

Why 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Should Win the VFX Oscar

Who ever thought you’d have to make the case for “Star Wars” winning the VFX Oscar? But with all the buzz surrounding “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “The Revenant” bear, which earned three additional VES awards for ILM, there are no guarantees. And that’s the point: ILM has done such outstanding photo-real work on the J.J. Abrams’ record-breaking “Star Wars” reboot — zeroing in on $2 billion worldwide at the box office — that there might be a tendency to take the work for granted.

READ MORE: “‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Seizes VFX Oscar Momentum”

But, as ILM has pointed out, “Star Wars” is part of its DNA and it changed the VFX industry. Besides, there’s so much to admire about ILM’s accomplishment with “The Force Awakens”: You’ve got realistic simulations and artistic-looking explosions for two great action sequences (the Millennium Falcon chase on Jakku and the attack on Maz’s castle on Takodana), a cool-looking lightsaber that’s as unstable as Kylo Ren, the adorable BB-8 droid inspired by Marilyn Monroe, and the brilliantly mo-capped Maz and Snoke.

In other words, “The Force Awakens” represents the entire photo-real package from ILM on its 40th anniversary — old school, new school, the best that practical and digital has to offer. The fact that it also seamlessly fits together and ties in wonderfully with the first trilogy is part of its great strength.

However, there were many noteworthy advancements as well, including ILM’s new simulation pipeline for water, fire, and smoke, its refined facial capture and animation tech for the creation of the bug-eyed and philosophical Maz (performed by Lupita Nyong’o), a new methodology for the digital modeling of the Falcon with more defined curves, and the creation of Unified Assets, which pulls together modeling, texturing, and shading practices for sharing with other studios.

Yet if you ask ILM VFX supervisors Roger Guyett and Patrick Tubach what their favorite moments are, it’s all about the action and aesthetics. “There is something so interesting about the desert moments to me,” recalled Guyett. “One of my favorite shots is at the beginning of the movie where you find Rey inside the Star Destroyer. She comes out and slides down the sand. It’s a fantastic shot — you just tilt down as she comes down. It’s very quiet but we’re back at the Star Destroyer with the engines and everything.

“Or exploring the idea of Tie Fighters against the sun. J.J. has so many great ideas but he cherry picks other people’s ideas too. I love the mash-up that we did of this charming, kind of simplistic approach to filmmaking… and this ridiculously complicated technology. And taking that line of reality and sending it out.”

For Tubach, a frequent Abrams collaborator, his favorite moment is the attack on Maz’s castle — an aerial battle and dogfight that recalls “The Battle of Britain” where you’re fighting over the lake. “The key in making it come together is the fact that it’s such a gorgeous shot,” he explained. “It draws in so many elements: the lake district feels very different to see the X-wings in that environment. It feels very familiar because you’re very fond of those ships and there’s a feeling of hope because these are not dark, depressing movies, and they’re fun.”

READ MORE: “How ILM Created VFX with ‘Forward Motion’ for ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens'”

Above all, Guyett emphasized the great VFX restraint and applying the basic filmmaking lessons of the first trilogy. “It’s very specific about what the shot was about. And making it feel like you were photographing something that was happening. And, of course, we have some scale and spectacle in the movie. But, ironically, our work plays better when it’s in a movie with more believable characters.”

That’s the best case for “The Force Awakens” winning the VFX Oscar in honor of ILM’s 40th anniversary.

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Walter Velvet Gregson

No offense to all Star Wars fans out there, but if "The Force Awakens" wins an Oscar for Best Visual Effects, I’ll be extremely disappointed. First of all, ever since 2012, every winner of the "Best Visual Effects" belongs to artistic, realistic epic films such as "Hugo", "Gravity", "Life of Pi" and "Interstellar"; this clearly shows that top grossing, bombastic sci-fi blockbusters aren’t film reviewers’ preference when it comes to the quality of Visual Effects. While one might argue that "The Force Awakens" boasts glory legacy and remarkable craftsmanship, you can’t deny the fact that the visual effects in "The Force Awakens" aren’t as ‘inspired’ , ‘gorgeous’ or ‘mind-blowing’ as compared to previous winners of the category ( particularly "Interstellar" ). On the other hand, "Mad Max : Fury Road" shows incredible potential in terms of narrative style, and the fact that how relentless the effects are presented is beyond crazy. You don’t get to see films like "Fury Road" that much nowadays, a film that works so effectively on a simple plot, thanks to its intriguing characters and flawless action sequences. As for "The Martian", Ridley Scott returns to his peak form as a compelling sci-fi filmmaker ( it’s a breakthrough considering this is his best sci-fi film to date since "Blade Runner" in 1982 — although "Prometheus", an ambitious spin-off of "Alien" which came out in 2012 was quite good ). With so many real-life scientists praising the realism that shines through the protagonist in the movie as he struggles to learn and survive in a hostile environment, "The Martian" is a force to be reckoned with in terms of its storytelling and visual effects. "The Revenant" is widely talked about by film critics recently, but its powerful story and Leonardo DiCaprio’s haunting performance overshine its overall special effects. The same can be said for "Ex Machina", an intriguing, cautionary look at the dangers that arise with the advancement of artificial intelligence. It’s the thought-provoking ideas offer through the film will linger in viewers’ mind long after they watch it, but its visual effects won’t bear the same legacy as its concept. In short, I’d love to see "The Martian" or "Fury Road" taking home the honor of Best Visual Effects. And if "The Force Awakens" really wins, I would feel that the Academy committees give recognition to it for the films’ legacy and its status as classics in the cinematic industry, and not genuinely for its excellence in presenting visual effects. Anyway that’s just my opinion.


No thanks. A lazy, uninspired, unimaginative photocopy of the 1977 masterpiece. Give the Oscar to Mad Max instead.

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