2012 VFX Bakeoff: And Then There Were 10
Despite the mix-up with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Tim Burke, the VFX production supervisor, did a terrific job encapsulating the noteworthy achievement on the Potter finale: the first-time CG Hogwarts (principally done by Double Negative but with MPC handling some of the environments and half the school grounds). "Requiring more than two years' worth of modeling and texturing by a team of over 30 artists, the school itself was made from more than seven individual buildings modeled with three levels of detail all of which combined to build an asset with more than 7 million polygons… At its widest point, the [virtual] Hogwarts set recreated more than 10 miles of Scottish terrain." This provided flexibility and quicker iterations for turnaround. They could fly around courtyards and into windows during critical moments of the battle, for a more visceral and immersive experience.
Real Steel, the futuristic boxing film, offered a new virtual production paradigm, taking the Simulcam developed for <Avatar> to the next level by placing it in a real world setting. VFX production supervisor Erik Nash explained the new procedure principally carried out by Digital Domain and Giant Studios. There were a dozen unique and fully articulated CG robots (with three hero animatronic robots supplied by Legacy). He described the significant breakthrough: "DD and Giant Studios developed a virtual production pipeline tailored specifically for this movie. This enabled us to create the boxing sequences from MoCap through onset takes to shot turnovers in a remarkably efficient manner. This virtual production system was instrumental in enabling the production to shoot the movie in 71 days with no second unit." Shooting with the Simulcam on set with MoCap actors resulted in a more visceral viewing experience when replaced with the animation.
Finally, VFX production supervisor Christopher Townsend nicely laid out the most important work on Captain America: First Avenger: the creation of "Skinny Steve" by Lola. "But the biggest and most unique challenge was creating Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) before he becomes Captain America," Townsend suggested. "After experimenting with different approaches, they settled on the most straightforward: a 2D manipulation of the image. "Lola literally mesh-warped Chris' whole physique frame by frame… thinning out and intricately re-sculpting his muscles and changing the contour of his torso. Extensive lighting of areas had to be done to remove the shadows caused by his stomach. [Changing] Chris' face was probably the hardest part. Thinning out his facial features and his neck, narrowing the square of his jaw just enough to make his new head fit on his body without losing the characteristics that make Chris recognizable."
We'll find out on Tuesday what the five nominees will be.
Bill Desowitz is former senior editor of AWN and editor of VFXWorld. He has a new blog, Immersed in Movies (www.billdesowitz.com), and is currently writing a book about the evolution of James Bond from Connery to Craig, scheduled for publication this year, which is the 50th anniversary of the franchise.