VFX Oscar Bakeoff 2011: Staying Alive
Now that the VFX Oscar category has been expanded from three to five nominees, what's to become of the bakeoff? That was a hot topic of conversation last night during the reception at Kate's. Apparently one plan being considered for next year is to expand the bakeoff shortlist from 7 to 10 while trimming the 15-minute demo reels to 10.
"To me, the bakeoff is like an essential part of modern VFX culture," suggested Paul Franklin, the visual effects supervisor for Inception. "It's something that everyone aspires to: everyone wants to win an Oscar. But the actual bakeoff itself -- when I got to the bakeoff with Batman Begins as part of that team five years ago -- a huge part of it was that you were there, in front of your peers in the industry. Whereas if it's just some anonymous committee that decides on it, you've got no idea, they could've just spun the dice. But you feel if you got up there and gave a good account of yourself and you got people to see it and you can actually gauge people's reactions, it's a special night. And it would be a real shame if they did away with it."
Eric Barba of Digital Domain starting things off by reminding his VFX colleagues that the groundbreaking Tron was not even allowed to compete for an Oscar because computers were considered an unfair advantage. He then admitted it was intimidating trying to live up to a legend with Tron: Legacy. But Digital Domain not only raised the stakes with a host of new vehicles and environments in raising the Tron bar, but also how important it was to shoot in 3-D for an immersive experience. However, the biggest challenge was improving its performance capture capability (Face Plant) for turning the 60-year-old Jeff Bridges into the 35-year-old Clu avatar. Everyone knows what Bridges looked like in Against All Odds, and that's what they were aiming for, using the actor to help drive the performance as his younger self. This involved a smaller footprint, writing better tracking data and improved data wrangling (with the help of EA in Vancouver), but also putting the volume process into the hands of the animators with a new interface for faster and quicker results.