2012 VFX Bakeoff: And Then There Were 10
The Motion Picture Academy tried an experiment this year by expanding the bakeoff from seven to 10 entries and then compensating by shortening the presentation from 15 minutes to 10. The result last night at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater had mixed results, judging from some of the responses I got. While the introductions were informative and often lively, some of the demo reels suffered from a lack of cohesion. Frankly, that's what happens when the VFX is spread throughout with lots of characters and action. I also heard complaints that there wasn't sufficient time to explain the VFX in full detail. Then again, it doesn't make sense to have a bakeoff just to narrow the field from seven to five nominees.
Also, there was an embarrassing snafu when the wrong reel was screened for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. This was a bakeoff first: they stopped the presentation at the beginning of the reel when they realized they had the wrong file, and didn't fix the problem until the end of the program when they played the rest of the reel (presumably from the correct file). Since Deathly Hallows Part 2 is one of the strongest Oscar contenders -- a fitting finale for the most successful franchise in film history and a VFX landmark for putting the UK industry on the map-- we'll have to wait and see if there is any serious fallout.
For Hugo, Martin Scorsese's love letter to early French cinema, Rob Legato, the VFX production supervisor, began the evening by joking about the bravura opening sequence into the train station and up to the clock. All the important elements had to be virtually created and when the director asked to see the scene, Dante Ferretti, the production designer, told him, "Maybe Mr. Rob will show you." But, of course, Legato had yet to build this wondrous environment. "So we start and we prevised the entire Paris and it's almost all CG until we reach into the train and then it was basically real people shot with four cameras, so that their action is not endangered as we're driving straight through it. And that's the first bit. And then we blend into a live-action set and then immediately tilt up to Hugo and it just becomes a full CG clock and right into his eyeball to start the next scene, which, of course, is something basically from Goodfellas…"