Updated March 9: In winning the photoreal feature VFX prize at the 20th VES Awards on March 8 (at the Beverly Hilton), “Dune” is now a step closer to winning the VFX Oscar. It also collected three other awards for model (Royal Ornithopter), effects simulations (Dunes of Arrakis), and compositing & lighting (Attack on Arrakeen).
Updated February 9: Denis Villeneuve’s sweeping “Dune” (Warner Bros.) leads the way as the frontrunner in the VFX race. The other nominees include “No Time to Die” (MGM/UA), “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (Marvel/Disney), “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (Marvel/Disney), and the surprising “Free Guy” (20th Century/Disney).
DNEG created imaginative 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. However, the big innovation was the Sand Screen process instead of blue or green screens for background environments in the desert. This prioritized accurate bound light over ease-of-compositing. Additionally, all the practical sand and helicopter work demonstrated excellent use of special effects.
“No Time to Die” marks the first time that James Bond franchise has been nominated for VFX since “Moonraker.” which demonstrates the scope of the CG and practical work (led by production supervisor Charlie Noble and SFX supervisor Chris Corbould). With director Cary Joji Fukunaga completing Daniel Craig’s arc as Bond by tying up all five films, it was important to emphasize the emotional connection to the action as well. The VFX interaction with the stunt work was very impressive, especially during pre-credit teaser with the Aston Martin DB5 back in full aggressive mode. This involved a high-speed chase and explosive face-off in the ancient town of Matera, Italy. Another highlight from DNEG, the sinking trawler, was rigged to sink with Bond locked inside. Detail work was essential to create the progression of the trawler’s descent and the accurate simulation of the surrounding water and debris.
Thanks to the latest tech advancements, Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), Electro (Jamie Foxx), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), and Lizard (Rhys Ifans) felt right at home in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Credit Marvel’s production VFX supervisor Kelly Port, who oversaw the cutting-edge work of Digital Domain 3.0, Sony Pictures Imageworks, and Luma Pictures, which did the heavy character lifting. They started from scratch and made improvements while adhering to the basic designs. For the tentacled Doc Ock, who wreaks havoc on a crowded bridge, DD — which previously worked on the Oscar-winning “Spider-Man 2” along with Imageworks — did a complete CG overhaul with finesse and flexibility. For Electro — which was worked on by Luma for his entrance; DD for an escape scene using Tony Stark’s Arc Reactor; and Imageworks for the final battle on the Statue of Liberty — there were several new wrinkles, including a more comic book-accurate look for his electricity.
“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.
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.
Below are the nominees ranked in order of likelihood to win:
“No Time to Die”
“Spider-Man: No Way Home”
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”