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Oscars 2019: Best Visual Effects Predictions

It's a race between "First Man" and "Avengers: Infinity War" for the VFX Oscar. Updated January 26, 2019.

Marvel Studios' AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR..Thanos (Josh Brolin)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2018

“Avengers: Infinity War”


The Oscar race for Best Visual Effects is a showdown between “First Man” and “Avengers: Infinity War” — reshaping in-camera VFX for NASA’s trip to the moon versus Marvel’s brilliant CG Thanos.

Meanwhile, the other nominees are Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One,” “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” and the very surprising “Christopher Robin,” which managed to create the believable photoreality of the beloved stuffed animals in in actual English locations shot in natural light.

On “Avengers: Infinity War,” Digital Domain created Thanos in parallel with Weta Digital. The success of both Thanos characters was a result of conveying every nuance of Josh Brolin’s onset performance via DD’s new high-res facial capture system, which captured Brolin’s facial data and then added the actor’s low-res onset performance. Through analysis and fine-tuning, the animators accurately joined Brolin with Thanos, which could yield Marvel its first VFX Oscar. The level of photo-real performance capture definitely raises the bar for a humanoid.

“First Man”

Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

Damien Chazelle set out to redefine shooting in-camera for “First Man,” dramatizing NASA’s Apollo program starring Ryan Gosling as astronaut Neil Armstrong. As a result, DNEG (Oscar winner for “Blade Runner 2049”) used a diverse mixture of visual effects, special effects, archival footage, and scaled models to help create the 1960’s documentary style film. Chazelle’s space epic benefited from 90 minutes of rendered footage on a 360-degree spherical LED screen while shooting in-camera with full-scale practical crafts (for the standout X-15, Gemini 8, and Apollo 11 sequences). DNEG also recreated in CG Apollo launch footage shot by NASA.

“Ready Player One”

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

For ILM, realizing the virtual reality of The OASIS from Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” became an eerie trip down memory lane. But while it was difficult building the diverse virtual worlds and animating the avatars so they believably resembled their real-world counterparts, the geekiest part was reconstructing the interior of The Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s horror fave, “The Shining.” This animation was spot-on.

However, the mix-and-match digital trickery also involved shooting real actors as doubles, such as the Grady twins and the lady in the bathroom, who becomes a CG zombie. Recreating the gushing blood from the elevator was difficult, too. ILM’s sim team had to make it look exactly like “The Shining” blood in a tricky collaboration between effects and animation.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story”

The Kessel Run action sequence was the VFX highlight of “Solo.” The infamous record-setting mission made legends of Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) and the Millennium Falcon, as he expertly piloted through the hazardous hyperspace smuggling route in less than 12 parsecs. For director Ron Howard (who took over for Phil Lord and Chris Miller), it was an opportunity to partner with ILM (led by VFX supervisor and ILM head Rob Bredow) to dramatize the thrilling moment.

Yet it wasn’t enough that during Han’s crazy shortcut they encountered an Imperial blockade with tie fighters, a black-hole-like gravity well, and a treacherous storm with carbon bergs. Howard also added a space creature to the mix.

The contenders are ranked by their likelihood of winning:

“Avengers: Infinity War”
“First Man”
“Ready Player One”
“Solo: A Star Wars Story”
“Christopher Robin”

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