2012 VFX Bakeoff: And Then There Were 10
With Transformers: Dark of the Moon, ILM raised the bar for robot animated performance and relentless destruction. Scott Farrar, the VFX production supervisor, said it produced "the biggest effects extravaganza he's ever been involved with. This was all about the light. I said to Michael Bay early on that let's make it darker, moodier, film noir style. And we did that, when appropriate. We tried super slow motion to emphasize the transformation, so you could see all the articulated movement more closely in 3-D. Our metal robots are composed of thousands of pieces and this is exciting to see in 3-D, especially in close-up of a robot's face. In 3-D, you can discern the depth, the nooks and crannies of the face or the body. On the face of it, there is continuous action, explosion and demolition. That's certainly an important part of this work. It's very important to me to create emotion and have them act. They must deliver important dialog and exposition. It's not Shakespeare, but they could do Shakespeare."
Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the frontrunner as a result of Weta's acclaimed CG Caesar, was succinctly and informatively detailed by Joe Letteri, the four-time Oscar winner and VFX production supervisor. "One thing we wanted to do different was to try to make sure that the performance that he was giving us on the day was the one that we stayed on. So what we did was rewired our motion capture system: we switched from using reflective LEDs on suits to active LEDs. They were infrared so the film camera didn't see them and then we embedded our motion cameras on every set where the apes were called for on a given day. So it became part of the normal rigging process. For the facial capture, we used a system very similar to the one we developed for Avatar and Tintin, which was a single camera mounted to a head rid in front of the face. But I just want to point out that you can't really quantify performance believe me, we're trying but it really takes an animation team… because you really don't know you have it until you do. There's really no substitute for that experience and that combination. We also built a hugely detailed model for the eyes; came up with a new fur system, so rather than growing fur procedurally, we decided to build a system where the artist can groom every fur directly; we did develop new muscle systems and new muscle systems for the face because there are lots of dynamic simulations; we go on top of the animations. And also the animation itself had to be re-jiggered."
The Tree of Life was definitely the odd man out, in which Eternity is created in a standalone sequence for Terrence Malick's meditation on nature and grace. Dan Glass, the VFX production supervisor, joked about the four-year process that's antithetical to the craft. He even questioned his sanity. "The fact that the subject itself concerns eternity was a cruel in-joke." Howls of laughter ensued. He described "the skunkworks" lab set up in Austin, where Doug Trumbull came in to consult on the photographing of practical elements for the Astrophysical realm. "This project was less about creating a volume of work and more about sustaining a variety. The work is subtle and relatively uneventful. It's great strength is its attention to detail for the camera movement composition, animation and compositing."