Disney’s “The Lion King” strengthened its status as the frontrunner for Best Visual Effects with a terrific presentation by three-time Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Rob Legato at the Academy bake-off. He entertainingly touted the breakthrough virtual production along with its stunning, faux live-action aesthetic. MPC upped its animation game considerably, and it didn’t hurt having legendary cinematographer Caleb Deschanel as part of the live-action crew, shooting a cross between a nature doc and “Lawrence of Arabia” on the VR stage.
Additionally, Disney franchise heavyweights, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” and “Avengers: Endgame,” also boosted their prospects for nominations, thanks to presentations boasting their cutting edge, high-octane work. In particular, Industrial Light & Magic (under the supervision of Roger Guyett) was innovative in its use of both digital and practical creature effects for the Skywalker finale, including Babu Frik, the tiny droidsmith puppet that’s become an instant fan favorite. And the Battle of Exegol required enormous animation and simulation work, with more than 1,000 Star Destroyers and 16,000 Galaxy ships locked in combat.
Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” offered an innovative approach to de-aging screen legends Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. ILM undertook a two-year, NASA-like science project (supervised by Pablo Helman), developing a markerless, light-based performance capture software called FLUX in concert with a special three-camera rig (in collaboration with cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and ARRI). The before and after demonstration proved very illuminating in how they used deformation on the mesh models instead of animation to preserve the career-capping performances of the three actors.
However, Best Picture momentum after its Golden Globe win helped boost the supporting VFX of “1917.” Sam Mendes’ intense World War I thriller (lensed by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins) required a unique VFX collaboration in stitching together the sequences as one continuous shot. In addition, there was plenty of standout practical effects. For example, the dazzling nighttime village sequence boasted an assortment of specialized magnesium flares, which traveled 170 feet, every 22 seconds.
The final five contenders are listed in alphabetical order. No film will be considered a frontrunner until we have seen it.
“The Lion King”
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”