Handicapping the VFX Oscar Race
Next week the VFX Oscar race really begins as the Academy's visual effects branch exec committee narrows the preliminary list of 15 down to seven. Then we'll get our five nominees, thanks to the newly expanded field, when the branch votes at the Academy bakeoff on Jan. 20. However, we won't find out, of course, until all the nominees are announced on Jan. 25.
But first things first: What are the magnificent seven likely to be?
The safe bet is: Tron: Legacy, Inception, Alice in Wonderland, Iron Man 2, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Granted, Dawn Treader provided vastly improved Reepicheep and Aslan from MPC and Framestore, respectively, and Prince of Persia contained the dazzling "Dagger Time" rewind effect from Double Negative. But what if either or both don't make the cut?
There's The Last Airbender, which contained marvelous CG characters and new GPU-accelerated fire sim from Industrial Light & Magic (with help from NVIDIA's Plume).
Or what about Unstoppable or Shutter Island: the swan songs from the shuttered studios Asylum VFX and CafeFX? The former featured terrific CG trains that blended in well with the in-camera work for Tony Scott's non-stop thrill ride, while the latter offered a B-movie feast of creepy environmental and atmospheric work for Martin Scorsese's mind- bender.
There's also Hereafter, the underappreciated Clint Eastwood love story about coping with near-death experiences, which started off with a bang, thanks to Scanline's superlative tsunami.
And don't forget the trippy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Double Negative (where Asylum founder Nathan McGinness is headed to run the Singapore studio) and Mr. X provided an inspired variety of graphical techniques that conveyed the alternate reality of Edgar Wright's pop cultural mash-up.
Then again, there could be some other combination of surprising results.
It's sure to be an interesting bakeoff. Perhaps even the last, since there's been grumbling about how unnecessary the notion of a bakeoff has become considering that the exec committee can just as easily narrow the list of 15 from seven to five. Then again, I haven't heard much enthusiasm about expanding the field from seven to 10 to justify the bakeoff. We'll see.