Denis Villeneuve’s sweeping “Dune” leads the way as the favorite in the VFX race (bolstered by its VES-leading six nominations). But there is plenty of competition from the other shortlisted films, including four Marvel movies (“Black Widow,” “Eternals,” “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home”); “The Matrix Resurrections,” featuring the return of “Bullet Time”; and “No Time to Die,” Daniel Craig’s action-packed farewell as James Bond.
DNEG created spectacular VFX for the otherworldly “Dune” (overseen by two-time Oscar-winning production VFX supervisor Paul Lambert and Oscar-winning SFX supervisor Gerd Nefzer). Shot in Budapest, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, and Norway, the work is both epic and intimate, from the wind blown sand, to the raging sandstorms (done practically at the director’s request), to the flying insect-like ornithopters (requiring a special in-camera setup and backed by photoreal exteriors) to the iconic CG sandworms, which cause the entire desert to vibrate with the help of custom-built mechanics. (DNEG is additionally represented by the shortlisted “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” “No Time to Die,” and “The Matrix Resurrections.”)
Oscar winner Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) brought her visually stunning aesthetic to the ambitious “Eternals,” breaking free from Marvel’s reliance on virtual green screens by shooting on location in the Canary Islands and Oxford and London, England. Zhao also leaned on practical effects as much as possible while utilizing her reliance on long takes. For the exotic world building, spanning 7,000 years, the director was inspired by manga and the MCU legacy. For the epic story involving mythological caretakers of humanity, the VFX centered on beauty, invention, and destruction. The work was shared by Weta Digital, Industrial Light & Magic, Scanline VFX, and Luma Pictures, among others. There’s a lot of graphic simulation work, but the standout is the CG Deviants, who are both breathtaking and monstrous.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” the MCU’s introduction to Chinese wuxia fantasy adventure, offered several unique VFX opportunities: manifesting the power of the titular rings, creating Marvel’s first dragons — the Great Protector and the Dweller in Darkness — and conjuring the adorable Morris, the headless, six-legged, furry friend to Ben Kingsley’s court jester, Trevor. The look of the titular rings associated with the immortal Wenwu/The Mandarin (Tony Leung) evolved from an extravagant display of colorful energy to a more subdued one. Weta — best known for Gollum, Kong, and the acclaimed “Planet of the Apes” trilogy — has also delved into dragons (“Pete’s Dragon” and “Game of Thrones”), and created two very imaginative creatures for “Shang-Chi”: The Great Protector is a serpent-like, wingless water dragon, while the soul sucking Dweller is a winged, tentacled, eyeless creature.
DNEG used a combination of volumetric capture, underwater footage, and stereo rigging for the return of Bullet Time in “The Matrix Resurrections.” Customized camera rigs and stereo cameras were used for the workshop and cafe sequences where Neo faces off with The Analyst (Neil Patrick Harris). The stereo cameras were used to capture elements simultaneously in the interaction between them. They were lined up and shooting at different frame rates and shutter speeds, Then they composited and split-screened them together from different film speeds. Additionally, at the cafe, stunt players that were suspended on wires with CG enhancement around them, using different frame rates, and some volumetric capture.
While the James Bond franchise has not been nominated since “Moonraker,” “No Time to Die” could sneak in because of its high profile and standout work. It was important for director Cary Joji Fukunaga to complete Craig’s arc as Bond by tying up all five films. This meant emphasizing the emotional connection even during the action sequences, which impacted both the VFX and SFX. The Aston Martin DB5 was back in full aggressive mode during the pre-credit teaser. A high-speed chase ensues with Bond and Madeleine (Léa Seydoux) in the iconic car through the tight streets of Matera with spectacular architecture dating back thousands of years and its polished stone road surface. Bond and Madeleine wind up in a doughnut square and are pummeled with gunfire. Finally, he flicks the switch, guns appear, and he strafes the area 360 degrees around him, hits the smoke, and then escapes. The bottom four feet of all the buildings in the square were recreated and added to the existing buildings.
The line between real and digital is deliberately blurred in “Free Guy,” with Digital Domain assisting in the jumping between live-action and CG based on the POV of Ryan Reynolds’ heroic Guy and other characters. To populate the digital version of Free City, DD created CG versions of many of the characters, including Guy. To create the gamesetting, DD used the previs assets, and built nearly 100 3D environments, created from modular buildings, then altered with different textures and materials. Artists then added individual flourishes by hand to replicate and stylize the real-world Boston locations, including storefronts, residential, and commercial buildings. DD also used its proprietary face-swapping tool, Charlatan, for the first time in a feature.
Listed in alphabetical order are the shortlisted films. No film will be considered a frontrunner until we have seen it.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”
“Spider-Man: No Way Home”
“The Matrix Resurrections”
“No Time to Die”
“Godzilla vs. Kong”