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Tasty Quotes from the 2012 VFX Bakeoff

A sampling of some of the best quotes from the visual effects Oscar nomination presentations, along with a few catty conversations overheard at the reception.

Martin Scorsese's Hugo. Image © 2011 GK Films. All Rights Reserved.

Two hours of schmooze followed by over three hours of presentations by teams all vying for Best VFX Oscar gold, the annual VFX Bakeoff was a long but ultimately enjoyable evening. Always a gathering of industry legends, this year was no different – giants Rob Legato, Scott Farrar, Joe Letteri, Michael Fink, John Knoll and John Dykstra were just some of the presenters.  Though it’s possible to glean new insights into how a particular vfx shot was handled, the most entertaining part of the evening remains the occasional quip or funny anecdote shared by a presenter.  While the victuals at Kate Mantelini are always great (upscale mac n’ cheese + cold night = smile), each year it seems more and more people are squeezed into an impossibly narrow space.  While not great for locomotion or bathroom breaks, the sardine can confinement does make for interesting eavesdropping.  You don’t really catch entire conversations, nor complete context, but your ears do perk up if you catch something particularly funny, biting or just plain mean.  After all, this still is Hollywood.  And while it’s not quite Housewives of the Renderfarm, it’s still pretty amusing. 

Between the cocktail reception, the presentations for 10 separate feature film entries and the Q&A sessions following each film, here are some of the more memorable highlights:

In front of the restaurant, waiting to enter...

Guy in leather jacket: See that asshole getting out of the Porsche?

Other guy in leather jacket: Yah.

First guy in leather jacket: A couple dozen people lost their jobs to pay for that car. I hope he crashes on the way home.

Once inside the restaurant…

Guy in khaki shirt: So, how goes the awards season mania?

Obvious PR person: Well, come Tuesday morning, we’ll know if I still have a job.

-

Guy in sports coat: Christ, if you ran the company, there’d be a stack of workstations rendering in the bathroom.

Guy in leather jacket: Well, if you ran the company, the designers would only use crayons. 

Guy in sports coat: And love it!

-

Woman in sweater: You two know each other?

Older guy in denim jacket: [Hugging other older guy] Jeez, you look like shit.

Other older guy in sport coat: Yah, fuck you too. That shirt is older than you are.

Woman in sweater: Goodness, when did you two meet?

First older guy: Christ that was decades ago. I think on a shoot in Thailand.

Other older guy: Yah, the director thought you were a real asshole.

First older guy: Well, my ex-wife thinks I’m a real asshole too.

-

Young guy in sweatshirt: Hey, who’s that hot chick over there?

Other young guy in V-neck sweater: Where?

First young guy: Just kidding.  When’s the last time you saw a hot chick at this thing?

Inside the Motion Picture Academy theatre…

From the Hugo presentation:

"The bedroom at that end, that was a steadicam shot that Larry McConkey, the famous steadicam operator could not actually get all the way in or steady.  So we basically went back and completely created the whole room in CG to create the shot. And he doesn't even know.  He goes around bragging how great his steadicam shot was.  God bless him, he didn't do it.   He's in New York.  If you run into him, just congratulate him about it."

- VFX Supervisor Rob Legato, after being asked about the bedroom scene at the end of the film.

From the Transformers: Dark of the Moon presentation:

"A centerpiece of the film is the building getting crushed by Colossus the giant worm...They were rendered in 3D.  Colossus is the largest asset to date at our company, with over 70,000 pieces.  And, the largest renders in ILM's history.  It was staggering.  Since the building and often Colossus were both reflective, each eye took about 1 1/2 weeks to render, if it didn't crash.  Some of these frames took 122 hours per frame.  Crazy.  So things got pretty tense when any of these shots failed."

- VFX Supervisor Scott Farrar

"Well, there wasn’t a lot of steel, but the biggest shot you had was getting me up in the morning. This is my 50th year in the motion picture business.  In fact, this year my wife told me that when I die she's going to have me cremated and put me in an hour glass so she can keep me working."

- Special Effects Supervisor John Frazier, when asked how much steel he used in making the movie

From the Tree of Life presentation:

"The Tree of Life is a very different piece right from the start.  Looking back, it had every hallmark of a project you should run a mile from. There's no script. Questions about a schedule cause producers to turn away muttering under their breath.  And they were the more seasoned producers.  In all, a complete red flag in which I truly questioned my sanity.    The fact that the subject matter itself concerns eternity was a cruel in-joke...Four years after my first meeting with Terry [director Terrance Malick], we delivered.  One year later, we finally delivered."

- VFX Supervisor Dan Glass

"Brad [Friedman] was originally brought on, in theory, as the previs supervisor.  At which point, Terry said, we didn't do previs."

- VFX Supervisor Dan Glass

From the Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol presentation:

"When Tom [Cruse] is climbing the Burj, about half of that is really Tom climbing the Burj at full height.  Most of the work there is painting out the safety cabling and the reflections of the cabling and the reflections of the reflection and the camera and whatever crew members were in there...The removals were challenging. Challenging to the point where in many cases we elected to render parts of a CG building to patch over where the wires were because it was actually less work to do that."

- VFX Supervisor John Knoll

"When Ethan and Jane are racing across Mumbai in a high-tech BMW concept car, for the exteriors, BMW loaned the production its multi-million dollar, one of a kind prototype with admonitions to be careful with it, don't take it over 40 miles an hour, no rough roads, etc. On the first setup of the second night of shooting, we blew up the transmission and there were no facilities in Mumbai to repair it.  So we shot the rest of the week with a target car that we tracked and later replaced with a CG car."

- VFX Supervisor John Knoll

"When Tom [Cruise] is climbing the Burj, about half of that is really Tom climbing the Burj at full height.  Most of the work there is painting out the safety cabling and the reflections of the cabling and the reflections of the reflection and the camera and whatever crew members were in there...The removals were challenging. Challenging to the point where in many cases we elected to render parts of a CG building to patch over where the wires were because it was actually less work to do that."

- VFX Supervisor John Knoll

"The interior of the nuclear missile is entirely made up, but Mohen Leo is on a watch list somewhere for his attempts to lookup reference."

- VFX Supervisor John Knoll

"I was at the Burj on a scouting trip...I was having a conversation with the Paramount safety officer who was very concerned about all that Tom wanted to do.  And I heard Greg [Smrz] saying, 'Anything over 70 feet, he's dead. It doesn't matter how high he is. Might as well be up at full height.'"

- VFX Supervisor John Knoll, responding to question about the scene where Tom Cruise runs down the side of the Burj.

From the X-Men: First Class presentation:

"The Cuban beach was a very interesting challenge.  The beach location in Georgia was selected to double for the Cuban cove. I think there had to be some kind of discount involved in that.  Several hundred palm trees had to be transplanted onto the beach to give the location a Cuban feel.  Karma does happen. The night we arrived a cold snap brought the temperature to 2 degrees below freezing and all of the palm trees died.  Now our beach was populated with dead brown palm trees. So we had to replace half of the palm trees and oh by the way we had to cover up the golf course behind the beach that we hadn't seen in the original scout, with jungle covered mountain side…So much for Cuba in George."

- VFX Supervisor John Dykstra

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