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‘Bumblebee,’ ‘Mary Poppins Returns,’ ‘Mortal Engines,’ ‘Welcome to Marwen’ Enter Crowded VFX Race

The year-end contenders have much to offer in anticipation of Monday's Oscar shortlist announcement.

Emily Blunt is Mary Poppins and Lin-Manuel Miranda is Jack in Disney’s MARY POPPINS RETURNS, a sequel to the 1964 MARY POPPINS,  which takes audiences on an entirely new adventure with the practically perfect nanny and the Banks family.

“Mary Poppins Returns”

Courtesy of Disney


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Is there room for late entries “Bumblebee,” “Mary Poppins Returns,” “Mortal Engines,” and “Welcome to Marwen” in the Oscar VFX bakeoff on January 5th? We’ll find out Monday when the Academy releases its shortlist of 10 qualifiers.

With the “E.T.”-inspired “Bumblebee,” Laika CEO Travis Knight dove into directing live-action for the first time. But he was acutely aware of the details that go into animated performance, having Industrial Light & Magic channel its energy into stripping down and simplifying the beloved Autobot for his ’80s origin story.

Read More:Oscar Visual Effects Shortlist of 20 Includes ‘Incredibles 2,’ ‘Isle of Dogs’

"Bumblebee"

“Bumblebee”

With most of the emotion coming from his big blue eyes when interacting with Hailee Steinfeld, Bee achieves a nuanced performance. The biggest challenge for ILM, though, was turning the simplified G1 designs into realistic-looking characters, using cutting edge tech to achieve the vintage looks.

Rob Marshall’s “Mary Poppins Returns” offers live-action/CG convergence at its cutting-edge best. The director was keen on supporting his choreography for the musical numbers, especially in the creation of the elegant music hall stage and nightmarish forest chase. Framestore’s Montreal team used CG elements to seamlessly integrate the live-action and hand-drawn animation (from Ken Duncan Studios) into a cohesive whole.

Emily Blunt is Mary Poppins, Lin-Manuel Miranda is Jack, Pixie Davies is Annabel, Nathanael Saleh is John and Joel Dawson is Georgie in Disney’s MARY POPPINS RETURNS, a sequel to the 1964 MARY POPPINS, which takes audiences on an entirely new adventure with the practically perfect nanny and the Banks family.

“Mary Poppins Returns”

coutesy of Disney

Meanwhile, the biggest challenge for Framestore’s London team was creating a unique dry for dry look for the undersea adventure by shooting on green screen, and then finding a balance between photorealistic environments (built modularly) and a more abstract look to best connect to the plates of the actors. On top of the surface, they created simulated water, foam, and bubbles, all with individual movement.

For the Peter Jackson-produced “Mortal Engines” (helmed by VFX artist Christian Rivers), Weta Digital created something unique for this London-based dystopian adventure: Giant mobile cities chasing and devouring each other. The centerpiece was the modular model for the 3,000-foot-high London, which, aside from moving, had to have the presence of a static establishing shot to hold the action.

“Mortal Engines”

Universal Pictures and MRC

Weta built a new hierarchical layout puppet system that bridged the gap between its urban detail tools and traditionally light vehicle assets. This allowed animators to treat London like a vehicle but enabled it to be constructed like an environment. The main bulk of the cities’ motion were fully keyframed to make sure they could sell its weight.

For the cyborg character, Shrike (voiced by Stephen Lang), Weta utilized keyframe animation to create subtle shifts in his movement to accentuate the machine-driven locomotion. The skeleton contained an assortment of mechanisms, with skin simulation layered on top, resulting in skin sliding over metal rather than muscles.

“Welcome to Marwen”

© 2018 Universal Pictures and Storyteller Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved

In “Welcome to Marwen,” Robert Zemeckis returns to animation to tell the true-life story of photographer Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell), who constructed a miniature World War II  village as part of his recovery from a brutal assault.

With traditional motion capture ruled out as an option, VFX supervisor Kevin Baillie and his team at Atomic Fiction (now Method Studios) invented a proprietary technique to create a seamless blend of doll and actor. The dolls and the worlds around them were CG, while their faces were driven by live-action footage of the actual actors. Framestore helped fuse the actors’ real faces with their plasticized doll alter egos.

This approach required an unorthodox simultaneous shoot of motion capture and beauty-lit Alexa 65 footage. All departments worked in parallel to build an interactive version of the Marwen universe, including performing dolls and a detailed digital version of the miniature Marwen town. They crafted a virtual production workflow to pre-plan every scene and visualize the imaginary world of Marwen in real-time while shooting on set.

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